Dear President Le Roy and Calvin College leadership,
My name is Andrew Knot, and I am a recent graduate of Calvin. I graduated with majors in German and English as well as a minor in writing. After reading about the potential elimination of the German major at Calvin, I’m writing to tell you a bit about what German at Calvin meant and continues to mean to me.
First, I would like to thank you for the work you have done for the college. I know many people on and off campus—and I count myself among them—who are very grateful for sincere and dedicated engagement as the president of Calvin. I also do not envy your position in the least. I understand that the school’s difficult financial predicament necessitates difficult decisions. Those decisions, regardless of which department, employee, or program they affect, will be met with criticism and second-guessing. This makes your job significantly more difficult, but also speaks to the school’s all-around excellence. It’s no small thing that even years later, graduates are willing to advocate for what they find special about the college.
For me, German is a large part of that. After graduating from Illiana Christian High School, a school whose thriving German department produced a current Calvin German professor, regularly sends German majors to Calvin, and presently claims a Calvin alumnus a teacher, I knew that I could come to Calvin and receive an outstanding education in the German language, German-language literature, and the culture of German-speaking countries. I did just that, and before long the decision to major in German became a logical one. I decided in my sophomore year to participate in Calvin’s longstanding German interim abroad and spend the subsequent semester abroad in Vienna, Austria.
During the five-week span of that interim course, the works of literature, grammatical structures, and cultural nuances I had studied in Calvin classrooms took on new life. Instead of an arbitrary set of adjective endings and counterintuitive word orders, the German language became my vehicle for communication. With it I could inquire about life in the pre-wall East or read some of original manuscripts that inform my Reformed faith.
After the interim I moved to Vienna and took part in a German-language study abroad program. The program is overseen by Central College and draws students from colleges and universities across the country. It has come to depend on Calvin students just as heavily as Central students. The program’s director, still a good friend of mine, does not hesitate to call Calvin German students the strongest of the program’s regular participants.
In the coming interim and semester, my sister Anneke, a sophomore German major at Calvin, is going to be participating in Calvin’s German interim abroad, the school’s longest-standing interim course. She will then be spending a semester in Vienna as part of the same program in which I participated. A still younger sister of ours, Juliana, is currently learning German at Illiana. She has already shown interest in the language. If she were to study it further, Calvin would be an ideal destination for her.
Meanwhile, almost four years after my semester abroad, I’m once again living in Vienna and working as an English teaching assistant. My job, part of a program overseen by the Austro-American Fulbright Commission, gives interested German graduates the chance to gain experience in language instruction in a German-speaking country. Last year I had the same responsibilities in Linz, Austria. My story was featured on the college’s website.
In Austria, I live the majority of my days in German. Whether I’m teaching grammar, literature, or culture, I know I can rely on the pedagogical model set by my German professors and the language skills I developed through them in my Calvin classes. In a time where the liberal arts are belittled as impractical and unnecessary, my Calvin liberal arts education, the German language being a cornerstone thereof, consistently and irrefutably proves itself useful.
Thank you for your attention to my story, one that would not exist as it does without Calvin’s German major. Calvin graduates have countless similar stories and I pray you get the chance to hear them. My hope is that, after benefiting from Calvin’s German department in the same way that I and so many others did, future Calvin students will also have the chance to tell those stories.
Class of 2012