Farewell from Dr. Bryan Hillis
To all those in, from and somehow still a part of the Luther community. June 30 marks the last day of my full-time employment at Luther College. You will note how carefully I have worded that sentence because somehow I have been a part of this community since 1974 when I first entered the university campus as an undergraduate. Although I was mostly physically absent from 1977 until 1989, Luther College has remained always a special kind of place for me.
It was at Luther College, under the guidance and mentorship of so many great teachers and thinkers that I was challenged far beyond my highly valued but conservative religious upbringing. It was at Luther College that I received mentoring from outstanding scholars in the classroom and in research. It was Luther College that offered me so many opportunities in administration and leadership.
But far, far more important than all these educational and professional opportunities, was the friendship and support I received from so many along the way whether it was at the university or the high school campus. There is at Luther College a culture of excellence forged within the Christian tradition that literally gushes forth into service for others, and where God’s justice and peace is sought for all whom the College is given to serve.
Two thoughts from the Christian tradition come to mind as I reflect on this. The first is the story of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke. As Luther College continually pursues its goals of excellence in education, the faculty and staff come across real needs amongst those whom it serves, especially its students. It tends to those needs in every way it can, irrespective of the creed, color, culture or orientation of that person. People at Luther College revel in the service of others simply because those people are there. We can cloak this in theological constructs like we are all children of God or it is what we do as people saved by grace but like the Good Samaritan, people of Luther College just serve others because they are there. Don’t get me wrong—I love the theological constructs as much as anybody but in the end, it’s simply about serving the neighbor because we find them here or there, or wherever. That’s what people do at Luther College.
The other thought is less Biblical in origin. “God works in mysterious ways” is credited to William Cowper, an 18th century English poet whose many attempts at suicide seemed, to him, thwarted by some presence or series of circumstances. Though I have been spared Cowper’s anguish and pain, I have often quoted his phrase, especially in my last 10 years as the College’s president where one witnesses so many inexplicable events or circumstances that I, as someone blessed with a Christian faith, can only explain through God’s presence. And that Presence is so often working through Luther College, its people and staff and community who, wittingly or not, are actors in God’s mysterious ways.
I started this little letter (which has become much more verbose than I had hoped—guess I’m still at least partly an academic!) by saying that this is my last day of full-time employment at Luther College. Though best practices require that I be absent from the College on both its campuses over the next year as my successor establishes himself in office, like so many of you who might read this, I will remain a part of the Luther College community because of the community that is far greater than the limits of its campuses. And so the qualification of this being my last day of full-time employment.
Finally, in imitation of one of Christianity’s best theologians, I can only say with Bach, Soli Deo gloria, for the multitude of blessings that I have experienced through Luther College.
Thank you and stay well!