What defines a college community?

On Wednesday night, March 30, a mix of over one hundred Goshen College students, faculty, staff, and Goshen residents twisted off bottle tops to savor Goshen’s newest sensation: Menno Tea, the lemon-mint infusion home-brewed by the college’s own enterprising students Niles Graber Miller and Hans Weaver.  The drink is delicious, and its coming out party was a hit.  The launch decorations featured student artwork–images of Tea-Rex, Tea-ball, and Dirk Willems receiving a Menno Tea from his drowning captor.  Even Menno Tea-shirts were made, and to top it off, an unexpected, beautiful, communally painted Volkswagen Bug sat right in the middle of the Connector.

While the event culminated in students and professors sitting back to chat over their newly purchased bottles of tea, more than a delicious drink was opened that night.  For me, the Menno Tea launch un-dammed a flood of emotions and memories passed down to me from Goshen College alumni fondly recalling the best creative happenings in their own time on campus. Each time I saw the hand-painted Bug driving around campus that day, I felt joy well up, inspired by my fellow Goshen students’ creativity.

Something about the Menno Tea event felt more authentic and invigorating for our collective Goshen College spirit than many of my experiences on campus this year.  There was more going on that night than merely the launch of Hans and Niles’s excellent new product.  Drinking tea together around a spontaneously-scribbled-on car from the 1960s was revitalizing and life-giving–and may have recalled for some a previous decade’s happening, when a Bug appeared in the lobby of the Good Library.

Watching students, faculty, and staff remark in delight over the psychedelically-colored VW parked inside a student lounge (yes, technically discouraged by the Letter of the Law) pointed toward well-needed unity amongst young and old (no ageism intended).  Hearing students compare stories of how their Grandma made a similar tea when they were kids—“except she used less lemon and more mint!”—evoked memories of roots and home that we can all relate to.  Feeling a connection to each other while participating in an occasion unique to Goshen College stirred up urges for togetherness and community.

Congratulations to Hans and Niles and the campus community on all levels that made the event possible.  The Menno Tea launch was a testament to what can be achieved on the Goshen campus if people both plan carefully and let the spirit of spontaneity move.  In light of Goshen’s attempts this year to define its identity more officially, I’ve had to wonder what really defines a campus community.

From what I’ve observed as a freshman, committees and deliberations that formally address and answer questions about Goshen’s identity are important, but we all have to be careful about the extent to which our culture is determined for us by committee.  For over a century, Goshen College has been defined, in addition to its stated mission and policies, by the spontaneity and creativity of its students, faculty, and staff—in the spirit as well as letter of the law.

Let’s be conscious of a need for official policies of the college, but let’s not let policy be the only thing that defines who we are.  As discouraged as we students may allow ourselves to feel at times as we wait to be told our institution’s official identity, we must remember that the Goshen culture is still ours to define.

The Menno Tea launch demonstrated—part of a number of unique events in our college’s history—that Goshen is a great place to be!  The more impromptu drum circles, late night hymn sings, Sundays spent lounging together on the lawn, and 1960s VW Bugs parked in the Connector, the better.  I encourage everyone on campus to be the creative force that defines who we are.  Goshen’s definition won’t be complete until we’ve all written—and improvised—our parts.