I typically describe Calvin graduates as people who know the why of what they are doing.

It’s one thing to do a job well and quite another to know the Christ-called purpose of the action.

Most of the Calvin graduates I talk with seamlessly combine these two explanations so there’s no what without the why.

I was thinking about the what-and-why recently when I heard that Calvin alumna Kirsten Kelly ’94, along with her co-producer Anne de Mare, had won an Emmy for her PBS documentary film The Homestretch (see p. 44).

We had featured Kirsten’s work on the cover of a previous issue of Spark, and Kirsten said she felt called to shed light on the issue of teen homelessness and to shatter stereotypes of homeless youth. That why took seven years of her life to complete.

Then, of course, there’s our Distinguished Alumni for this year, Peter Kreeft ’59 and Margaret Njuguna ’94.

Peter has spent over 50 years teaching philosophy at Boston College. The why of his work? To show students that the meaning of life is really very simple: to be a saint. And to be a saint is to love and to will what God wills.

Margaret says she knows it will take generations to change Kenyan parents’ superstitions toward their disabled children. That why for her leads to the what: to jump start that process by modeling compassion and care at her En-Gedi Children’s Home.

As Calvin alumni and friends, we know these responses as discerning God’s call for our lives, based on the gifts he has given us, and the faithful effort to use those gifts for the renewal of his world.

What that call is—teacher, doctor, farmer, business owner, attorney, chemist, social worker, filmmaker—is secondary to the why of fulfilling that call.

Thinking about the why caused me to recall one of my adventures interviewing Calvin alumni at their workplaces.

I was climbing the enormous Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia with alumnus Paul Vanden Bout ’61, who at the time was in charge of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

We were standing on a catwalk many stories above the ground, taking in a reflecting surface with the area of 2 1/2 football fields that bounces radio waves back and forth into the expanses of the universe.

Vanden Bout said to me, “I know other scientists have had to grapple much more than I with the faith-and-science issue,” he said. “It’s always been a fairly straightforward thing for me. I don’t think the Bible is the source for how questions; it addresses the why questions.”

Our alumni have always been good about the why. They’ve left the what to God’s leading—and have obediently offered their hearts, promptly and sincerely.