Dr. Daniel J. Martin
Seattle Pacific University
April 2, 2013
To Chairman Weibling, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished guests, alumni, friends, colleagues, and students,
And to all those who have participated in today’s ceremony,
Thank you. It has been an honor to have you involved in this special occasion.
I especially want to recognize the efforts of the Inaugural Advisory Committee. Thank you for all you have done to make this day a meaningful moment in the life of the University.
I am blessed to have a tremendous wife and partner in Pam. As the campus has quickly discovered, her life is defined by a smile, a positive and gentle spirit, and a selfless nature. Pam, I love you for who you are and what you mean to me. I am a better person, leader, father, and friend because of our life’s journey together.
To my in-laws who are here today, thank you for your presence and support. To my parents who weren’t able to be here but will read this message, thank you for your unconditional love, for nurturing my faith, encouraging my passions, instilling in me a desire to serve others, and for your prayers of blessing when you realized pursuing my vocational call would lead me many miles from home.
Of course, two young men round out our home — Jacob and Joshua. I am proud of the fine young men you have become, and I appreciate your willingness to allow our lives and the life of the campus to become intertwined. I say that … but then I think if I was a teenage boy, could there be any better place to grow up than on a college campus? Especially one where a majority of the students are female?
To our former presidents who are here with us today — Drs. McKenna, Le Shana, Self, Martin, and Eaton — your presence is a reminder that this event is not about any one person, but about the University. I recognize that anything accomplished in our future will carry traces of your visionary leadership and the indelible mark of excellence and transformation you have made on the University and in our lives.
I am always proud to represent the University and enjoy wearing SPU gear. About six weeks ago I was traveling through the Phoenix airport and an older gentleman came up to me, pointed to the SPU logo on my jacket, and asked, “Are you associated with SPU?”
“Yes, I work there,” I replied. He then asked, “How’s that new president working out?” Of course, I wanted to be honest and felt I had to let him know, so I told him, “He is absolutely fabulous.”
Ultimately, I confessed I was the new president and suggested he would need a larger sample size to answer his question with any accuracy. We continued chatting, and he told me that he was a former director of the Pacific Science Center. He mentioned he had hired many of our students and graduates over the years — finding them to be of the highest quality and caliber as both people and professionals.
His respect and admiration for SPU was certainly not a surprise to me given our distinguished faculty, dedicated and professional staff, and extremely bright and gifted students.
The presence of these notable people is rooted in the longstanding tradition of excellence and living life with purpose. In the same manner that all over the world there are trees that make our environment a more beautiful place, it is our hope and dream that SPU — our students and alumni — do just that — make the world a more beautiful place.
On our campus, we have many trees that help create what I believe is one of the most beautiful campuses in our nation.
When SPU began in 1891, a White Poplar was living at the front of campus near the entrance of what is now Tiffany Loop. The tree is still there. Arborists identify it as over 130 years old. Given the historic nature of the White Poplar as a living legacy to our founding, we have decided to propagate it and will plant its genetically identical progeny in a prominent campus location. My hope is that 130 years from now, Seattle Pacific University will continue to value this second generation White Poplar as it serves as a living link to our founding and as a reminder of our core values, beliefs, and founding purpose.
It should be noted, however, initially, there were competing interests for the institution’s purpose. The presiding bishop of the Free Methodist Church, B.T. Roberts, was a champion of the liberal arts; Nils Peterson, a Queen Anne Hill resident (and the one who gave the original five acres for the campus), was in favor of a professional school for the training of missionaries; while Hiram Pease, another Seattle citizen and one of the founders of Seattle Pacific, was in favor of a school to teach hygiene.
So I can’t help but wonder, does this mean Seattle was defined by “grunge” long before Nirvana and Pearl Jam?
As distinctive as it may have been to have our founding purpose focus on hygiene, fortunately Bishop Roberts and Mr. Peterson’s vision prevailed. SPU began as a seminary and then expanded to include a liberal arts curriculum within a Christian context. Today we celebrate a full-orbed University — one that maintains its liberal arts core but surrounds that core with a seminary, a number of other highly successful professional programs, and graduate programs of national acclaim.
Although I have only been a part of the SPU community a relatively short period of time, from what I have witnessed both before and after I arrived, what I have read in our history and institutional documents, and all that I have heard while meeting with alumni, in leading our strategic planning sessions, while enjoying lunch in the cafeteria with students, chatting with faculty over a cup of coffee, and, yes, even what I hear in an airport … it all tells me that, without question, SPU is an institution of distinction:
- Where our Christian identity is foundational and formative,
- Where the life of the mind and a life of faith are not mutually exclusive, and
- Where academic excellence and rigor exists.
I have found SPU to be a university committed to:
- The ideals and values of diversity,
- Modeling reconciliation efforts in our world, and
- To being a community — one that is: large but small, broad but deep, diverse yet whole, independent but collaborative, close but not cloistered, faithful but not dogmatic, demanding yet graceful, strong while hospitable, progressive yet grounded, and a place of thoughtful convictions though earnestly open.
And without question, the University remains gratefully connected to the Free Methodist Church and embraces a faith statement which reflects that we are:
- Historically orthodox and distinctively Wesleyan, and
- Clearly evangelical and genuinely ecumenical.
As we pursue our mission within the complex context of higher education, there will be moments when it will be good to draw nourishment from our roots and rest in the shade of the White Poplar. Our rootedness and institutional health is directly related to our capacity to remember, creating space to reflect on our foundational values, philosophies, and institutional commitments.
While good to rest, reflect, and remember, we must not linger for the world will not wait. We must advance on our journey. We have all heard the national conversation regarding the future of higher education — how difficult and challenging it will be. And I believe that. It will be. While challenges are not new to us — the pace and depth of change in the future will be different, faster, and more difficult to predict. Given this, we will need to be nimble, proactive, prepared, and ready to adapt. We must examine meaningful trends and explore both the implications and our response.
To reflect our internal and external future, we will plant a second tree alongside the second-generation White Poplar, a White Oak. The oak with its deep taproot will remind us that we must always remain connected to, and draw strength from, our historic purpose, values, and identity. But it is not a White Poplar. It is a different species and will reflect a different meaning for our community. May the oak’s majestic canopy and magnificent size remind us to always consider new thoughts, new strategies, and new delivery, resource, and economic models to not simply sustain, but to distinguish, strengthen, and advance the University.
At present, by most any standard industry measure — quantitatively or qualitatively — SPU is recognized as a great university.
However, SPU dare not rest on its laurels. We have been an institution built on faith and vision, and we must continue to set our sights high. We will pursue a vision that will challenge us, stretch us … one that is worthy of our past and reflective of our purpose.
As we envision a new future together, four core emphases will frame our thoughts and planning:
Academic excellence and relevance
Transformative and holistic student experience
Vital Christian identity and purpose
Resource development and attainment
These emphases aren’t unique to SPU — but when combined with our institutional values, beliefs, and mission, the vision and plan we will identify and pursue together will bear SPU’s unique stamp.
As we consider the future, it will require a commitment from all of us — a commitment to serve one another, a commitment to allow ourselves to be defined by the central core of who we are, and a commitment to a creative reimagining of all that we do.
Let us have the courage, resolve, and faith to envision a future worthy of our boldest aspirations — to be one of the nation’s leading Christian universities.
Our mission statement provides the narrative and reason for why we must move forward. It states:
Seattle Pacific University seeks to be a premier Christian University fully committed to engaging the culture and changing the world by graduating people of competence and character, becoming people of wisdom, and modeling grace-filled community.
Through our curricular and co-curricular experiences with students we pursue our mission with the highest standard of excellence and deepest intellectual engagement — simultaneously nurturing and shaping our students’ faith. Our approach is holistic in nature, constantly seeking to integrate and develop the whole person — intellectually, spiritually, socially, emotionally, professionally, and physically.
As etched in marble on Martin Square near the center of campus, it is our goal to graduate students who are scholars and servants, to move from this campus and be ready to “Engage the Culture and Change the World with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
We seek to graduate people who live a life of service, people who can interpret the cultures of our day and recognize the gaps, inequities, and the needs in our world … and then imagine how life could be, or should be, and work toward that end — seeking change that brings shalom, human flourishing, wholeness, and harmony.
Engaging in social contexts and becoming conversant in the framework of injustice, inequality, and community needs and concerns in order that we might seek change is not new to SPU. In 1891, the closing day exercises of our first academic term featured children marching determinedly around the room, singing “Saloons Must Go … Saloons Must Go … Saloons Must Go.” Now you can understand why our oldest facility, built in 1893, is named Alexander Hall, after the first name of our founding president — rather than his last name, Beers.
So what about us? What about this time and place? If we were to march at the conclusion of this ceremony — what would we be marching about? What would you be marching about? In thinking about our city, our world … what and how should we engage, and what change would we seek? Challenged by the voices of children past, let me offer these thoughts for What Must Go and What Must Come:
Division must go, Unity must come
Hate must go, Love must come
Turmoil must go, Peace must come
Homelessness must go, Shelter must come
Illiteracy must go, Learning must come
Human Trafficking must go, Freedom must come
Ignorance must go, Understanding must come
Emptiness must go, Presence must come
Hunger must go, Sustenance must come
Sexism must go, Respect must come
Racism must go, Relationship must come
Conflict must go, Reconciliation must come
Addictions must go, Wholeness must come
Sickness must go, Healing must come
Despair must go, Hope must come
This brief list reminds us we live in a divided world, a divisive world. We live among fissures, gaps, injustices, and broken systems and relationships.
Our university’s vision of “Engaging the Culture, Changing the World” is, at its core, Wesleyan in nature and compels us to work for the greater good, toward human flourishing. John Wesley believed that God’s grace is sufficient not only to forgive and save, but to redeem, restore, reconcile, and recreate. He believed in the faithful engagement of works of mercy — extending grace to those we encounter along life’s journey.
As we engage the culture, as we serve, we are to reflect the character of God: love, justice, mercy, and truth. “Engaging the Culture, Changing the World” reflects the optimism of grace as mediated by individuals, the Church, the Community, and the Collective.
Seattle Pacific University is shaped by and extends this rich theological tradition — we are well positioned to engage and seek change — institutionally and individually.
Institutionally, we will incorporate the question — “What Must Go and What Must Come?” — into our strategic planning process, seeking to enhance and focus our efforts for how the University can positively engage and work toward human flourishing — on our campus, Queen Anne, Seattle, Washington, and beyond.
And I have the privilege of seeing our community’s individual response to “What Must Go and What Must Come?” day in and day out through the lives of our students and alumni. Whether it is a focus on the city’s homeless, global environmental challenges, illiteracy, racism, jobs for the global poor, or the tragic issue of human trafficking, they are engaging the many cultures of our world … working for positive change for the sake of the gospel.
Engaging the Culture, Changing the World.
A Vision for a Flourishing World.
The Vision of Seattle Pacific University.
May God bless SPU as we pursue our future with resolute focus and missional alignment — driven by the pursuit of excellence and defined by purpose, learning from a rich history toward a future of great promise and opportunity.