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ISSUE 119 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/14/2006

'Last Lecture' addresses judgements, goals

By Emelie Heltsley
Staff Writer

Friday, April 14, 2006

In an evening filled with laughter, tears, stories, questions, lessons and standing ovations, President Christopher Thomforde delivered a speech, "Free to Wrestle with the Big Questions," as part of the Blue Key National Honor Society's "Last Lecture Series" last Tuesday. Students, faculty, administration and friends of the college filled Boe Chapel for Thomforde's talk and gave him a standing ovation when he was introduced by Blue Key President Matt Stortz '06.

Thomforde centered his message around a quotation he saw on a stained glass window while attending the wedding of a friend. This saying, "Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God," prompted him to ask his audience a set of questions about the consequences of this freedom.

"If we have peace with God, we don't need to worry about the judgments of others," Thomforde began, saying that he finds comfort in God's judgments, not the opinions of others.

"If we have peace with God, we are free to respond to life's most pressing realities," he said, going on to discuss five of those realities and the best responses - and questions - to life's challenges.

Thomforde first discussed poverty and the need for action on the part of students.

"God is always on the side of the poor, never on the side of the advantaged," Thomforde said, listing statistics about the poverty levels of the United States and the world. He urged students to use their liberal arts educations to "hear the cry of the poor and work on their behalf."

Thomforde next mentioned community and the need he sees for open access to health care and education. He suggested to those gathered that they use their education to explore new economic models that would give more people access to resources.

Thomforde expressed the importance of heritage for his third point and challenged his audience to stay committed to their values and culture.

"What are these values?" Thomforde asked. "Do they really inform our actions?" Thomforde explained that people whose values are tested better handle the problems that hit them.

For his fourth topic, Thomforde re-defined the word "cosmopolitan," saying that a truly "cosmopolitan" person is one who recognizes a world outside his or her own community and who is "at home in the world."

Finally, Thomforde mentioned the environment and the questions we should be asking about the state of the earth as free men and women.

"What will the conditions be for my five grandchildren?" Thomforde asked. "It requires something of me now, at peace with God."

After discussing these five main life challenges, Thomforde expressed his profound gratitude at being free from the judgments of others.

"I am profoundly grateful for the gift of freedom," he said, explaining how the rhythm of life is constructed by the giving and receiving of gifts.

"How might we as men and women of St. Olaf be agents of gratitude, known for our graciousness?" he asked.

After his 30-minute speech and a second standing ovation, Thomforde entertained questions from the audience, ranging from his favorite memory at St. Olaf to the problem of wealth to his departure. One student asked how students could welcome incoming President David R. Anderson next fall and not remain angry about Thomforde's leaving.

"You don't want to let judgments of others determine your life," Thomforde said.

Thomforde warned against letting anger grow into resentment, which would split the St. Olaf community.

"Don't let [anger] slip over into resentment," he said. "People dwell in resentment and enjoy being in that simmering pain."

He also stressed that there was nothing "evil" about St. Olaf or the Board of Regents.

"The Board is made of terrific people," he said. "They are not bad, evil, mean or stupid."

After the question and answer session, the audience gave Thomforde a third standing ovation.

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