January 18, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

Photo Courtesy: Deb Hoag

On January 13, 2023, a student in the Calvin Prison Initiative program delivers a charge of encouragement to President Boer during his presidential inauguration at Handlon Correctional Facility.

On Friday, January 13, 2023, Calvin University held a presidential inauguration for new President Wiebe Boer on Calvin’s campus inside Handlon Correctional Facility. The event is believed to be the first-ever inauguration held inside an active prison. It was an opportunity for Dr. Boer to speak directly to Calvin students who are working toward their bachelor’s degrees behind bars through the Calvin Prison Initiative (CPI)—a partnership between Calvin University, Calvin Theological Seminary, and the Michigan Department of Corrections. The program is lauded as a national model for prison education.

“As president of Calvin University, I am committed to understanding and representing all of our students, whether it be undergraduate, graduate, or certificate-seeking students on our campus in Grand Rapids, those studying online all over the world, or those studying on our campus to the north at Handlon Correctional Facility,” said Boer. “We are all part of the Calvin University community and so it is essential that every student feels heard and seen.”

During the inauguration ceremony held on the Handlon campus, just like at the inauguration ceremony on Calvin’s Grand Rapids campus in October 2022, several people offered words of encouragement and responsibility to the new president.

Here are those words from student representatives from each class in the CPI program:

Anthony Flint ‘27

“As a representative of the Class of 2027, it is an honor to offer words of encouragement and a charge to Calvin’s new president, Dr. Wiebe Boer. President Boer, some might claim that your “call” to lead a Christian university represents a cross between preparing women and men for the Kingdom of God and preparing men and women for secular careers. However, the Handlon community believes that the call of God does not separate the Kingdom of God from the secular. We believe that the Kingdom of God is wherever God’s call on our lives takes us, whether in one’s career, family, friendships, society, and on it goes. For some of us, then, our calling takes place behind prison walls, here at the Handlon Correctional Facility. And for others, it means coming to Handlon as faculty, staff, and supporters. And so today, the Kingdom of God is upon us.”

McConnell Adams ‘26

“President Boer, as a representative of the Class of 2026, if the Kingdom of God is upon us, then we are standing on holy ground. I want you to know that we stand with you, and with your family. We will be at your side through prayer and words of encouragement in good times and challenging times. And we ask you to stand with us. Pray for us. Encourage us. Pray for the officers, the staff, and the administration here at Handlon. From now on, President Boer, we stand together.”

Ken Coatsworth ‘25

“President Boer, as a representative of the Class of 2025, we applaud your international identity. You are a man of many tribes. Stay true to who you are: Canadian loyal, Nigerian at heart, Dutch through heritage, and American by way of calling. You are a citizen of many nations. We, too, are people of many tribes, but today by way of God’s providence we find ourselves together as one community. You belong to this community, and we welcome you and your family. Together we must serve one another in order that all of us can flourish.”

Shawn Davis ‘24

“As a representative of the Class of 2024, I want to remind us, I want to remind you, President Boer, that we toil not in vain, but are called to labor in love. As you lead Calvin University, see your work as an act of love: love the students, the faculty, the administrators, the staff. Love the Handlon campus: students, faculty, staff, officers, and administrators. Together in love, we will learn to think deeply about our lives and world, seek to act justly in all things, and live wholeheartedly as Christ has called us. President Boer, we love you.”

Jeff Mata ‘23

“And finally, as a representative of the Class of 2023, I want to leave you with this, President Boer. We know you are a team player, because you are such a fan of soccer – or, I mean, “football.” But today you are moving from fan to coach. Today you are the coach of team Calvin. Team Calvin has a staggering number of players. Some are excellent, some pretty good, and others, shall we say, need some help. And while we would love to win the World Cup, more than anything, we want a coach who will make us better, who will make us work hard for the right reasons, challenge us when necessary, and cheer for us always. We want to win but only if it means fulfilling the call of God on our lives. And likewise, we want you to be the best coach you can be, meaning of course that you are fulfilling the call of God on your life. So, let’s play ball, or whatever they say at a soccer game.”

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