Homecoming Banquet 2013

Promises to Keep
Luther College Homecoming Banquet
October 4, 2013

David L. Tiede
Interim President

It is a humbling privilege to speak this crowd tonight. My wife Muffy and I have been here only three months. And I, a geezer interim, get to welcome all of you home! Is this a great job or what? No, really, is this a great college or what?

We cheered with the full grandstand at the opening football game when the Norse defeated the Oles. {Did I tell you that we beat St. Olaf?} We were again awed when the Center for Faith and Learning was packed on parents’ weekend to hear 10 musical ensembles in two days!

And look at all of you! Where in the county will you sleep tonight? Sorry, all of the beds in the President’s house are filled, with old friends who are Luther grads. Homecoming is alive and well at Luther College! Give yourselves a Luther cheer! L-U- L-U-LUTH, T-H-T-H-THER, LUTH-THER LUTHER (X3)! Welcome home!

One of my preacher friends was once asked, “How many points should a sermon have?” She replied, “At least one!”

Well, this brief address will have two parts, one part about our students and one part about you, our graduates, but just one point. I hope I don’t blow it! 

Everyone had fun when we welcomed the first year students to campus. It was a noisy reception with upper-class students pillaging the arriving cars and hauling the stuff to the rooms. There was a lot of hooting and laughter while the parents smiled faintly, through tears. “Where’s the loving care for my baby?”

But that is exactly what was happening. It was the moment for which parents had been preparing, and Luther College was welcoming their sons and daughters in youthful exuberance. Soon these students heard about how they will explore, discover, and become who they are meant to be at Luther College. This wild and wonderful welcome started the long, sacred journey. They belong here! In the presence of their parents, they shouted out together, “I belong at Luther.”

And the journey is truly “sacred.” At Luther College, we welcome our students in holy awe for who they are and what they will become. Let’s not become too sober or assume all the kids are shouting a faith statement. But something wonderful is hidden in the hilarity. Luther students, staff, and faculty welcome our new students and their families into a community of conviction.

Let’s be respectful. Luther includes people from many faiths and non-faiths. You don’t have to be Christian or Lutheran to care deeply for students, and Luther students love this place simply because they are loved, and challenged to grow.  I don’t know if this holy regard for our students and their callings is an ingredient in what some people call Luther’s “secret sauce,” but I do know it is in Luther’s DNA!

When the Lilly Endowment invited elite, historically Christian colleges to apply for grants on “The Theological Exploration of Vocation,” Luther was at the head of the line, receiving multiple awards in the millions. We have been doing vocations for over 150 years. The excellence of our educational work is a promise we keep by equipping our students to make the world a more trustworthy place.

When the first year students shout “I belong at Luther!,” they are trusting this place to live up to its convictions, to keep the promise of its heritage.

That’s how Luther College is student-centric! When we welcome your sons and daughters, we care for them. And more, we care about their gifts, discipline their strengths, and hold them responsible as members of a community. To keep our promise to our students and the world, Luther College challenges as it cares, leading deep into the worlds of science, social science, humanities, and the arts.

The Board of Regents meets in two weeks, hosting a workshop with faculty and others on the leadership Luther needs from its 10th president. Think of it. Only nine presidents in 152 years! Amazing! But the challenges ahead are daunting!

Associate Dean Jeffrey Wilkerson has gathered five faculty teams to discuss such disruptors in higher education as the cost spiral, the digital age, and the changing profiles of our students. This is a vigorous discussion. He has challenged us to consider, “What particular advantages does our liberal arts, Lutheran influenced, residential community give our students?”

Last Monday in chapel, Professor Brad Chamberlin related how he, a polymer chemist, was called to Luther. You can hear his address on the website! Listen to how he reached out to the whole community, including alumni:

“I believe that each member of the Luther community has been called to this place with a purpose by a God who has seen you beneath the fig tree — by a God who knows you, your passions, and your gifts. You have been called here to shape and to be shaped by others. You have been woven into a dynamic fabric that is constantly recreating itself – we are a community that each year welcomes new members as we send others out into the world.  … we are a community that extends to the furthest geographical reaches of our alumni.”

Can you hear it? Your lives are our promises kept in the world. You are the Luther College our students become. You are enacting your vocations in your work, paid or unpaid, in your families and homes, in your communities of faith and caring, and in your public lives. You may not use the “vocation” word, but you were sent out from Luther College to make the world trustworthy. Your teachers expected you to do good. And look at you.  Many of you have also done very well!

Our students are Luther’s promises to keep. You are what was promised.

Our entering students shout, “I belong at Luther!”

Your place shared within the community is, “Luther belongs to me!”

So, to use Dean Wilkerson’s terms, you are one of Luther College’s most “particular advantages.” And how will our great network of graduates mobilize?

What differences can you make to sustain the Luther College promise?

Let me name three, tagged as, “scholars,” “dollars,” and “connections.”

“Scholars” means students who will belong at Luther College. You are in position to know who they are. When prospective students visit the campus they are warmly welcomed, and the enrollment yield is superb.  But before that, they visit when you put your arm around them and say, “Luther is my college, and you belong at Luther!” Maybe you will even bring them. It’s a big decision in a young person’s life. You can help them find Luther and prosper.

“Dollars” means investments in Luther’s annual fund and legacy gifts. Every contribution helps, and your participation as Luther grads is growing. It’s all good. But Luther needs to do more than hold on in the turbulence of the 21st century. The 10th presidency at Luther College will be an era for playing it forward, and you can be stakeholders to take this remarkable enterprise to new levels. When you say, “Luther belongs to me,” think scholars, dollars, and connections!

The “connections” are powerful! Look around you. Imagine how you could provide internships, shadowing experiences, counsel, and connections to our students and faculty to mobilize their strengths into vocations. Our career center is important to student futures. Connect is the homecoming theme! Let’s do it!

Listen to me, talking as if I am a real Norse. I joined the first year students shouting, “I belong at Luther!,” but I had only been here two months. And we are all hoping to complete this interim in one year or less! Pardon my bravado in talking to you like this. But I believe what I am saying.

Luther College can set the 21st century standards for excellence in Lutheran higher education. I came believing that. Being here, my confidence in this community of both learning and faith has only increased. But the pathway ahead into the turbulence of higher education will not be easy.

When I read Will Bunge’s account of Luther’s history, Transformed by the Journey, I was struck by the vision, the courage, the sacrifice, and the profound adaptations this college made at critical times in its 150 years. You can do it again!

It is anchored in the Luther College promise to our students, Become!

They are our promises to keep, and you are Luther’s promises kept!

Like many of you, Muffy and I are deeply blessed by our family, and they keep us grounded. When we agreed to come to Luther College, our son said, “Dad, now you are at the top. You finally made it to a school with cheerleaders!”

That’s nothing! I have become a cheerleader! But let’s not do LUTHER again.

Please stand, if you are able. Get ready to join a cheer. It is welcome week in September. Imagine you see a student you brought, a promise to keep. She or he is sticking a hand in the air. Join the shout, “I belong at Luther!”

“I belong at Luther!
Now cheer for yourself, a promise kept. “Luther belongs to me!”
“Luther belongs to me!”
Soli Deo Gloria!

Welcome home!