An Open Letter to My Daughter

Dear Angela: Thanks for having the courage to be a student at a college where your father is president.

April 30, 2013

Dear Angela:

Thanks for having the courage to be a student at a college where your father is president. Such a path might not be for everyone, but your mother and I are very glad it was the right one for you.
Watching you grow into adulthood reaffirms my faith in higher education, and particularly in small residential colleges like Augustana. I’ve watched you grow in mind, spirit and body, into a confident young woman who is ready to take on the world.
What surprised me most was how influential your faculty members are. I recall many conversations we had around the dinner table, starting when you were about three. These were always wonderful conversations (except for a few times in your teen years when you were tired of answering my questions). What has impressed me most in the last several years is the influence of your faculty members in helping you determine your calling. 
I know I’ve joked that a 15-minute conversation with a professor seems to have as much influence on you as two decades of conversation with me. But I get it: your professors see things in you that I don’t. I see you as my youngest child, and they see you for the budding leader you are.
Even though you’ve been patient with all of my advice, please indulge me once more before you head off to graduate school. Over the next weeks and months, you will receive all kinds of congratulations and praise. And deservedly so. You’ll be congratulated for your academic record and acceptance at a top graduate school. You’ll be told you can achieve anything you want to achieve. I second all of that, but I want you to remember the biblical injunction of Micah 6:8:  “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?”
Justice, mercy and humility. I hope your generation embraces each in equal portions.
Sadly, my generation, which seemed so committed to justice in the 1960s and 1970s, has not created a just world. As you leave this special time and place, think about the great social justice issues of the day. How can your generation, when you are my age, look back and say you reduced inequity and injustice? How can you better address the legacies of debt – both financial and environmental – that my generation leaves with you?
And remember mercy, especially wherever it seems most egregiously forgotten. In today’s world we tend to judge people by their worst moment. We don’t give people the benefit of the doubt. Try to assume the best of everyone, and instead of making people earn your trust, try when you can to give them your trust and make it hard for them to lose it.
But the attribute of Micah’s injunction that is most overlooked is the last: walking humbly. I am so proud of your outstanding accomplishments at Augustana and the hard work that’s behind every one of them. But please remember you did not do it alone. You are where you are because you stand on the shoulders of others. You stand on the shoulders of your grandparents who believed the first rung on the ladder of opportunity is a college education. You are a beneficiary of the alumni of this college who have provided funding for our buildings, our scholarships and our endowment. 
But most of all, you are the fortunate recipient of the inestimable talents of those who make up the faculty and staff of Augustana College. Whether it be the friendly smiles and conscientious care of our staff or the enduring mentorship of our faculty, you and your classmates are indeed fortunate. And as long as you hold that spirit of gratitude, you will know what it means to be blessed.
Steven Bahls, President
Augustana College


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