Q&A with President Halvorson
Mark Schwehn, Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America
[tie] Dead Poets Society and Red Dawn
Favorite Sports Teams
Green Bay Packers; Arsenal
’80s - REM, Green
’90s - Dave Matthews Band, Under the Table and Dreaming
’00s - Avett Brothers, I and Love and You
cheeseburger and fries
Favorite Historical Period to Study
late Middle Ages/early Reformation
Favorite Place to Run
the Embarcadero in San Francisco
When were you first introduced to Covenant?
The first Covenant alum I ever met was Miriam Malkus Jones ’60, who was my VBS teacher at Faith Presbyterian Church (RPCES) on 7th Street in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was only the beginning, though. Through connections at Faith my family met Joel Belz and his family, and in the early ’80s we began attending a PCA church plant (Christ Covenant Church, Matthews, NC) on the same Sunday that Harry (“Ike”) Reeder ’74 took the pulpit as that church’s first pastor. We did not know a lot of Covenant alumni, but the ones we did know were persuasive advocates for the College.
What is one of your favorite memories as a Covenant student?
I have many good memories of my time as a Covenant student—some in the classroom, some on the hall, some on the soccer field. I suppose one of my favorites is the time I went to my mailbox in the spring of my senior year and found a nice, handwritten note from my SIP (senior integration project) supervisor, Lou Voskuil (history). I was behind schedule on my SIP, and Dr. Voskuil had decided to encourage me with a personal note, which read: “Dear Mr. Halvorson, If you do not submit your SIP by the Monday after Easter, you will not walk in May. pax vobiscum (which in Latin means, ‘peace be with you’), Lou Voskuil” I did not go home for Easter my senior year, but I did submit my SIP, and I did walk.
Why did you choose to study history?
The simple answer to why I chose to study history is because I found that I really enjoyed it, but I suspect that the more meaningful answer is that I found in the study of history the sort of comprehensive treatment of human existence and change over time that satisfied my curiosity about why things are the way they are. I love that history is multidimensional—that human agency and the change it engenders in societies can’t be reduced to unitary explanatory causes. This, to me, reflects the reality of my existence, of our existence, and I find it fascinating to dig into the past to try to uncover the almost otherworldly contexts of past periods and the variety of motivating causes for human action in those contexts.
Tell us about the friendships you formed as a student at Covenant.
Like many (perhaps most?) Covenant alumni I formed some wonderful, life-long friendships in my time as a student on Lookout Mountain. I was already good friends with my brother, Hans, with whom I roomed for one year and played soccer for two. I also developed deep friendships with a few guys—all hallmates—with whom I am still close today. We were determined to perpetuate deep, intentional, Christian friendships into our adult life—recognizing that not all Christians are blessed with such relationships—and I’m pleased to report that we still get together once a year (even though we’re spread across the country) and do regular conference calls (how old-man is that?) for the purposes of accountability and encouragement and fun.
What five words would you use to describe a Covenant Scot?
Tenacious. Gritty. Courageous. Faithful. Hairy.
How did your Covenant education change you?
My Covenant education changed me in a lot of ways. It humbled me. It made me a better thinker and communicator. It taught me to connect my faith with my discipline. It instilled in me an alternative definition of success. It helped me develop a greater appreciation for the body of Christ. It exposed me to Moon Pies and Krystal burgers. It helped me find a sense of calling. I could go on and on—Covenant was an important, formative experience for me.
How does your family like being back in the Lookout Mountain/Chattanooga community?
We are thrilled to be back in Chattanooga. We experienced good years in California—years in which we were blessed to be part of a dynamic, growing Reformed college and a vibrant, city church plant—but we have always loved Chattanooga and the community surrounding the College on Lookout Mountain.
How many pictures of the Overlook have you taken since moving back?
I think I’ve taken at least seven, but I’m not counting. Frankly, I’d like to put a camera on a tripod and take a photo at the same time every day. I love the variation in light and sky and shadow that you get from that vantage point (as you may have been able to guess from the numerous Overlook pictures I’ve posted online).
Editor’s note: You can follow President Halvorson’s photos and commentary at twitter.com/derekhalvorson.
On the rare occasion you have a day off, how would you spend it?
If I were to get a day off, I’d probably get up early so I could read or watch an English Premier League soccer match (preferably while eating an Irish fried breakfast). Once the kids were up, we’d hike as a family (we like to get out into the woods together). And I’d love to finish by taking Wendy out for a nice dinner (she cooks a lot, and I’m terrible in the kitchen, so it would be a blessing to both of us).
How is Covenant’s ownership by the Presbyterian Church in America significant?
I think the PCA is a marvelous anchor for Covenant College. It’s very easy for Christian colleges to drift from their founding mission, and Covenant’s relationship with the PCA provides a guard against that sort of mission drift. It also keeps in front of us the very important role we play in instilling in young men and women a love for the church and in equipping them to serve the church, whether that’s in lay or clerical roles.
What changes would you like to see over the next five years? Twenty-five years?
One of my greatest concerns—and I know I’m not alone in this—is affordability. In the coming years, I’d like to see us find a way to keep Covenant affordable for as many people as possible. This is not an easy task to tackle, and everyone in higher education is facing it, but it’s an incredibly important one. I’d also like to see Covenant find a way to attract more students from the PCA and other like-minded ecclesial bodies. There are still a lot of students who are unaware of the distinct benefits afforded one by a Covenant education, and I think that it’s a shame—for them, but also for the kingdom of Christ—that those students are missing out.
Name three quirky things about Covenant that you love.
1. Strong hall identities.
2. Standing ovation for faculty at convocation—and rousing ovation for new students at the same.
What is your prayer for Covenant?
My prayer for Covenant is that she would remain faithful, both in her theological commitments and in her commitment to shaping the lives of young men and women through rigorous, Reformed, residential liberal arts and sciences education, for the sake of the church and the world.