Inspiring flexible, confident thinkers since 1894
Cultivating a passion for life-long learning
and a dedication to ethical leadership and civic responsibility.
These are the vision and mission statements of our United Methodist-related Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. A few days ago, I had the privilege of participating in the Board of Directors meeting at Morningside. I also addressed the graduating students at their Commencement and received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.
Because of the Pandemic, traveling and meeting in groups has been highly restricted over the past fifteen months. However, Morningside College has continued to flourish due to President John Reynders’ unwavering commitment to excellence in higher education, the strategic way he has led the college through COVID-19, and the fact that 90% of Morningside graduates find meaningful employment within a year. Most amazing, in the midst of the Pandemic, Morningside College had the fourth largest incoming class in its history and is transforming itself into a university as of June 1, 2021.
Iowa is unique in having four outstanding United Methodist colleges within its borders: Morningside College, Cornell College, Iowa Wesleyan University, and Simpson College. I could say many good things about each of them, but I am focusing specifically today upon Morningside, which never shut down during the Pandemic but rather reinvented itself. With a well-crafted response to COVID-19, professors and administrators were determined not to give in to easy answers but rather to develop a new way of learning. Faculty and staff met every day beginning in mid-March 2020 to assess and reevaluate their response and ensure that everyone was moving online. The culture of mutual support was evidenced by the fact that students began emailing faculty to see how they were doing!
The campus held together as COVID defined their way of life. But it was President Reynders himself who became the chief cheerleader and encourager as Morningside moved through this past year with confidence and hope. President Reynders is now beginning his 22nd year as President of Morningside College.
In the midst of so much uncertainty and change, new programs and opportunities continue to emerge.
- The nursing program is now offering its first doctorate program, a Doctor of Nursing Practice. An RN to BSN program has also been launched, and the clinical nurse leader program is ranked 4th in the nation according to RegisteredNursing.org.
- There are 1,200 undergraduates on campus during the academic year, but there are also 1,400 graduate students who are working on Master of Arts in Teaching, Master of Science in Nursing, and Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees. There is 11 Master of Teaching Tracks.
- Morningside has an awesome athletic program!
- Morningside has recently received two Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) grants from the National Science Foundation, totaling almost $1.3 million.
I am intrigued by several other creative initiatives.
- A new aviation program is developing in tandem with industry partners.
- The Morningside Board of Directors has created a Standing Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
- Especially exciting is the Regina Roth Applied Agricultural & Food Studies program, a new and fast-growing major. The college is currently constructing a campus greenhouse, as well as an outdoor classroom and test plot area.
More important than any degree program, however, is Morningside College’s commitment to focus on forming character as well as promoting simple book knowledge. Morningside is more intent on fostering integrity and justice than it is on getting ahead. And Morningside promotes civic responsibility and service in its students as much as the development of technical skills. In short, Morningside forms the whole person.
I concluded my speech on Saturday by reiterating these words to the graduating students. “Here is the heart of the matter, and this is why Morningside stands out among other institutions of higher education and is making a difference in Iowa, our country, and our world. Morningside inspires flexible, confident thinkers. Morningside promotes life-long learning, ethical leadership, and civic responsibility. And Morningside fosters the ability of students to continually reinvent themselves.
President Reynders and Morningside College are just one example of hundreds of
United Methodist-related schools, colleges, and universities that are unique to the communities and regions they serve. However different, they all share a commitment to expanding educational accessibility and training new generations of leaders for the betterment of the world. President Reynders’ respect for The United Methodist Church and our connection as United Methodists with Morningside and the many other United Methodist-related colleges and universities is a great gift to our students and to the church.
I reminded the gathering, “Much of the formation of Morningside College is related to The United Methodist Church, which was started in the 18th century by John Wesley in England. Toward the end of the year 1739, about ten persons came to Mr. Wesley in London and asked if he would pray with them and teach them. Wesley then divided his followers into groups and exhorted them to “watch over one another in love.” He also formed what was called the General Rules of the Methodist Church, laying out what was expected of his followers. Today we shorten them to Three Simple Rules: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.
“Whether you begin your career in the work world or choose to continue your education, following these three simple rules will ground your values, your ethics, and your actions. Do no harm to one another. Find ways to do good in our world. And honor the God who lovingly created you as a unique one-of-a-kind individual and invites you to a lifetime of service. Wherever the road takes you, may God’s grace lead you on the journey.”
At the end, I invited those who were graduating to receive this blessing (written by Rev. Jay Moyers) and all those who were supporting the graduates to overhear.
As your classes and grading are now complete, may you strive toward excellence in all you do.
As the speeches conclude,
may your voices rise up to pronounce justice and peace in the world.
As the fanfares cease, may you sing of joy, even in the dark and lonely places.
As the applause quiets, may you celebrate and lift up those around you.
As you graduate, may your achievements grow and produce growth in your communities.
And may we all know of the overwhelming blessings of the One who created all things.
Go in peace to serve God and your neighbor in all that you do. Amen.