A capacity crowd packed the Due West Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church August 27 when Erskine President Dr. Robert Gustafson spoke to students—including the biggest freshman class in the school’s history—about the “four-year gift” of the college experience at this year’s Formal Opening Convocation.
The president explored the question of what students will do with their opportunities at Erskine in an address he titled “Are You on a Mission?” Recalling words repeated in every television episode or film version of Mission Impossible —“Your mission, should you choose to accept it”— Gustafson made the point that while spending time and energy to achieve goals may not be impossible, it will be difficult.
In order make the most of their years at Erskine, students must not only set their goals, but exercise self-denial and self-control in order to meet them. For all students, from freshmen to seniors, “I can assure you it will take hard work,” Gustafson said. “Dreams without hard work are just fantasies.”
The president recalled going for a walk around campus early one morning last year. Nearing the baseball field, he heard the crack of a bat. A few members of the baseball team were practicing at 6 a.m. on a Saturday. He said to himself, “They get it.” Those diligent athletes became key players that season.
Offering another example of dedication, Gustafson said that when his sociable daughter, now a concert pianist, was in middle school, she would not take her friends’ phone calls during her practice time. “If I don’t put in four to five hours a day, I’ll never make it to where I want to be,” she told her father.
In addition to encouraging students to “decide what your mission is and go for it,” the president spoke about Erskine’s mission as a Christian liberal arts college. “The idea that the liberal arts are important has been receding in our culture,” he said. “There is a perception that the liberal arts are impractical.”
Citing corporations and institutions whose leaders value the skills enhanced by a liberal arts education, Gustafson asserted the importance of “writing carefully and clearly,” which “teaches you to think,” as well as the need in the business world for “clear writing, complex reasoning, and critical thinking.”
Erskine strives to offer a solid liberal arts education. However, if Erskine carried out its mission as a liberal arts college “perfectly” but did not introduce students to Jesus Christ, the president said, “we would have failed,” because each student is made in the image of God. “We want to introduce you to Jesus Christ if you are not a believer. If you are a believer, we want you to grow.”
The greatest mission of all, Gustafson said, was accepted by Jesus, whose mission led him to the cross. “Get to know Jesus, a fascinating human being and the fascinating Son of God,” he said. “Take time for your heart.”
The Rev. Paul Patrick, chaplain, offered an invocation, a prayer for the College and Seminary, and a benediction; College Provost Dr. Tom Hellams welcomed new and returning students and introduced new members of the faculty and staff; and Acting Dean of the Seminary Dr. R.J. Gore gave a scripture reading.
Musicians for the service included the Erskine Choraleers, directed by Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Keith D. Timms; and Rodney Cleveland, organist.