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Inauguration Address: Faithfully Curious

February 07, 2020 - 4 minute read

President Thomas at the podium

An inauguration is a daunting idea, a new start, a new beginning, a new transformation. And the college years are also transformative. For the students, these years are transformative because they are filled with choices. My questions to them are: What are you choosing to do with this time? What will your college experience be?

At Concordia University Irvine, all students — undergraduate and graduate, on-ground and online — experience a robust Lutheran, liberal arts curriculum that forms the foundation of the professional programs that are offered. But we do more than prepare students for careers. We prepare them for life-long learning, service to others, and ethical leadership in all their vocations.

It is right there in our mission statement: Concordia University Irvine, guided by the Great Commission of Christ Jesus and the Lutheran Confessions, empowers students through the liberal arts and professional studies for lives of learning, service and leadership. But how is this mission statement played out day-to-day?

President Thomas posing with other guests

At Concordia, we focus on the holistic integration of all ways of knowing and all ways of being: academic, spiritual, social, and communal. This is carried out in a thousand different ways — in classrooms, residence halls, athletic fields, the Grimm Student Union, the Borland-Manske Center, churches and neighborhoods of Orange County, and beyond.

At Concordia, we do not tell students what to believe or how to believe, what to study or what career to pursue. But we do help students, individually, to discern their own paths on this journey of discovery. And we help them discover the intersections between their beliefs, their passions, their talents, and their career options.

At Concordia, we develop students who, at their very core, are critical questioners. We want every student to ask deep and thoughtful questions. We give them the toolbox of the reporter: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?

And we also help them ask deeper and more profound questions: What do you want to be? Who do you want to be? And at Concordia, we ask students to wrestle with the spiritual question: Whose do you want to be?

This is a process of self-discovery and transformation. But ultimately, we help the student see that this is not just about them! For a truly enriched life is lived for God and for others.

This leads to different questions: How are you using your gifts to serve others? How are you alleviating the suffering in the world? How are you combating ignorance and bigotry? And how are you promulgating civility in a broken world? Ultimately, this process helps students — all students at Concordia — discover their own vocations, their own divine callings.

“Faithfully Curious”— why did I pick this inaugural theme? It’s what we’re all about as a Lutheran, liberal arts university — generating and cultivating curiosity in our students, undergrads and grads.

We want to cultivate curiosity, but we are also a Lutheran liberal arts university and that adjective matters! We want students to be curious, but we want to help them become “faithfully” curious. We do not mean that some questions are off-limits, as if curiosity must be constrained. There are no questions that are off-limits. We were created by God as rational creatures in His image with a human brain, and humans innately are born to ask questions.

Guests at the ceremony

But what about the others who are connected to this community — the faculty, staff, administrators, Board of Regents, and Trustees of Concordia? Have we embraced this spirit? Of course, some have. Yet, as a community, are we curious? What programs should we offer in the twenty-first century to meet the demands of students and their families? How can we better serve them? Are we welcoming to first-generation students? What about students from under-served communities? And this list goes on.

I raise these as a challenge to the Concordia community. We cultivate students to be “Faithfully Curious.” Are we? It starts with each of us. How can we lean into serving our students and the Concordia community more faithfully? And it can get personal: how am I serving and loving others? Why has God called me to serve here at Concordia?

Faithfully Curious. We are heirs to a rich, deep, 500-year history of people who asked why and how? From Luther in sixteenth-century Wittenberg to Manske, Moon, Hartmann, Schramm and Holst on a barren hilltop in 1976, to the many faithful, gifted leaders throughout the faculty and staff who have brought us to this moment in 2020, curiosity flows from our Lutheran Christian faith. New ideas, trying new things, stepping out boldly, this is the innate, creative spirit of Christianity. Each day we start anew, forgiven, restored, able to lean into a newness of life.

So I challenge all of us in this room to be bold, to be faithfully curious. To be daring. To try new things. The faculty and staff at Concordia are exceptionally talented and very smart. There are many terrific ideas that are locked away. Let’s unleash those. Let’s step out boldly and hopefully. And when we fail — and if we are being bold and creative, we will sometimes fail — we need to forgive and move on. We are children of grace, and as a community we need to extend forgiveness freely and widely. And we need to remain faithfully curious as we wrestle boldly with how to serve our Concordia students, their families and each other.

As a very new member of this community, I bring one distinct advantage: I see Concordia with new eyes. I can tell you without a doubt that the love and care that you have for students and for one another is palpable. Certainly there are challenges and obstacles, but this community knows collectively that we provide an exceptional, holistic education for all students. They are transformed intellectually, physically, morally, and spiritually as they meet Jesus Christ in each of us. For we are His hands and feet in this world. For this opportunity, we should continually praise God!

It is extremely humbling and a sacred honor to serve alongside all of you as the fifth President of Concordia University Irvine.

Thank you and may God continue to bless our collective mission and this university which is dedicated to living out the Great Commission of Christ Jesus!

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