Below is a letter I sent to my alma mater. I am sharing it here not because I want to make people mad, but because I spent four years hardly ever discussing my political views as a student. I believe the choice to bring Mike Pence to our college is short-sighted, and that many wise, remarkable individuals could have better aligned with the viewpoints and values of the college, its students, its staff, and its alumni. I care about my college too much not be disappointed and worried about the implications this invitation has. I invite respectful dialogue and alternative viewpoints in the comments below.
Dear Grove City College leadership,
I send this letter today with a desire to respectfully disagree with the recent decision to invite Vice President Michael Pence to speak at this year’s Commencement exercises. Though I recognize that my letter will not alter the decision or planning that has gone and will go into this event, I do feel it is my duty as an alumnus of Grove City College to express my thoughts in order to help you understand the variety of perspectives your alums possess.
Grove City College is an institution that prides itself on being a place of “principle.” Simultaneously, Grove City College lists one of its core values as “faithfulness,” a tenant which plays out in a commitment to truth, one’s word, and The Word. Finally, Grove City College’s mission statement states that it desires to equip students through a “Christ-centered learning and living experience” with the “promotion of the Christian worldview, the foundations of free society, and the love of neighbor.” As I weighed the news that my alma mater decided to invite Vice President Pence to speak at commencement, I found the choice to be inconsistent with the values GCC is supposed to espouse.
As I weighed the news that my alma mater decided to invite Vice President Pence to speak at commencement, I found the choice to be inconsistent with the values GCC is supposed to espouse.
Those who support your invitation of Pence have stated that we should not let his association with President Donald Trump invalidate him as a speaker worthy of the Grove City College stage. He is viewed by many as a man of principle, faithfulness, and a follower of Christ. It would be wrong of me to accuse Pence of a false faith, and I would not encourage others to do so. That being said, though Mr. Pence may be a Christian and a conservative—two traits also claimed by many of Grove City College’s students, alums, and family members—that does not mean he should be affirmed as role model and given a platform at this institution of higher learning. Nor does it feel very wise to allow him to become part of the greater Grove City College narrative, one that myself, my brothers, my parents, and my grandparents all claim as part of our own stories. Especially now.
Aside from my personal convictions and political opinions, and more importantly, I find it challenging to understand why Grove City College would choose to align itself with Mr. Pence at this time. Mr. Pence is part of (arguably) the most controversial administration in American history. He has aligned himself with an administration that ignores truth, claims the validity of “alternative facts,” preaches overt and easily dismissable lies, and displays blatant favoritism. Mr. Pence stood by as President Donald Trump signed an executive order to ban refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries, an order which has since been found not only unconstitutional, but worthy of public rebuke by more than 100 widely respected evangelical leaders including Tim and Kathy Keller, Max Lucado, and Bill and Lynne Hybels.
The Trump administration is not founded in “principle,” unless that principle is relativism— a principle I was instructed on by GCC professors to explicitly reject…Trump is unapologetically anti-free press and has repeatedly disrespected the judicial process which Grove City College owes its cherished “spirit of independence” to.
The Trump administration is not founded in “principle,” unless that principle is relativism— a principle I was instructed on by GCC professors to explicitly reject. The Trump administration is led by a man who is not faithful to the standards of what Scripture calls Christians to; Christianity Today asserted that “Trump is an idolater in many ways. He has given no evidence of humility or dependence on others, let alone on God his Maker and Judge. He wantonly celebrates strongmen and takes every opportunity to humiliate and demean the vulnerable. He shows no curiosity or capacity to learn. He is, in short, the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool.” Finally, the Trump Administration does not promote a comprehensive Christian worldview, love of neighbor, or even the “free society” that so many professors and students on campus advocate for through an aggressive support of the Constitution. In less than four months, the Trump Administration does not seem to respect the Constitution with the kind of vigor Grove City College pursues; Trump is unapologetically anti-free press and has repeatedly disrespected the judicial process which Grove City College owes its cherished “spirit of independence” to.
For all these reasons and more, I am very disappointed and frankly shocked that the college has chosen Mike Pence as this year’s commencement speaker. On a day for graduates to celebrate four years of hard work, perseverance, sacrifice, and personal and spiritual growth, I find it sad and self-promoting in the worst ways to chose a speaker for this honor when he is part of an administration that is so dishonorable. While many folks will express support and enthusiasm for the choice, and have every right to do so, I cannot be one of those people. This is not a matter of intolerance for a viewpoint I do not align with, it’s a question of “Why him, why now?”
The Grove City College my grandparents and parents attended was a place where students of a variety of political persuasions could learn and grow alongside one another. The Grove City College my brothers and I love is full of professors and students who challenged us to pursue truth and who encouraged us to be faithful to our Christian faith no matter how unpopular it made us. The Grove City College you’re presenting to the public through this choice is the one I desperately hoped did not exist: the one that retreats into an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy that Grove City College is a place with a greater concern about becoming “the best” more than it is with becoming more like Christ. While having a Vice President speak at our college is indeed “impressive” based on the prestige of the role, I find prestige to be an overrated quality, one that is counter to the nature of Christ’s ministry.
As a Christian institution of higher learning, I simply wish GCC would have chosen someone else to speak during such a politically divisive time. After all, GCC is supposed to be a Christian college first, right?
As I begin to wrap up my comments, I share some final convictions I felt upon hearing of your choice to invite Vice President Pence. As a Christian institution of higher learning, I simply wish GCC would have chosen someone else to speak during such a politically divisive time. After all, GCC is supposed to be a Christian college first, right? A figure like Makoto Fujimura, Marilynne Robinson, or another Christian intellectual or figure committed to the pursuit of truth and beauty would have, in my opinion, been a more prudent choice. There are many remarkable, commendable speakers that could have been tapped for this occasion. At worst, choosing a different speaker would have meant that Grove City College wouldn’t have gotten as much attention, and your Admissions counselors would have had to work harder to recruit incoming students. At best, choosing a different speaker would have meant that you wouldn’t have alienated and offended hundreds of alumni and friends of Grove City College, and made us question your motives and values.
To conclude, I recognize that I am not a trustee, a wealthy donor to the college, or the parent of a high school student; rather, I am a 23-year old with an opinion. It is presumable that because of those characteristics I’ve just described that my opinion does not hold much weight or influence. I can accept that. But what matters to me that is that I have let my voice be heard. I learned at Grove City College that speaking up for what is right is what is right. I learned at Grove City College that truth matters.
So as was requested in the email informing the student body of this decision, I will be praying about this. I will be praying that this decision doesn’t ruin commencement day for the graduates: Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, male, or female. I will be praying that students like me who decide to go to Grove City College won’t transfer out their freshman year like I considered doing because they feel so politically out of place. I pray that professors and students—the people who helped me love Grove City College—would continue to challenge ideas, denounce what is bad, and encourage what is good.
Grace Peggy Jean Leuenberger, Grove City College Class of 2016