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Following the call to help students find their purpose

President's Letter, CLU Magazine Spring/Summer 2024

Throughout this edition, you will read stories about students, staff, faculty and alumni who are living a life of calling and purpose. Such stories illustrate what institutions like ours aim to do: “educate young adults in body, mind and spirit to find their vocation and purpose in life, as well as career,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (

As the president of California Lutheran University, I endorse this view of Lutheran education, suggesting we take it even further by aligning with David Cunningham’s assertion that “Colleges Have Callings, Too” (2016). Extending the notion of vocation to institutions as a whole, Cunningham issues a bipartite charge:

  1. articulate and enact an institutional calling or vocation specific to our university; and
  2. invite regents, faculty, staff, students and alumni to “participate in that calling with whatever degree of nuance applies to [their] own specific version of that call” (p. 266).

If Cal Lutheran commits to doing both, we will become even better able to help our students understand, explore and “find” their vocation/calling/purpose (the quotation marks signal that “find” is an ongoing process, not a one-and-done discovery).

Rooted in Lutheran educational values that prioritize “both/and” thinking over “either/or” thinking, I propose that the following serve as a launch pad for articulating and embodying Cal Lutheran’s vocation.

  • Align our calling with our institutional traditions, strengths and current priorities, as well as with what the world needs at this moment.
  • Focus our traditions, strengths and priorities on fostering critical and creative thinkers and doers who understand broad-based human flourishing as paramount.
  • Steer our commitment to neighbor through service and justice toward a world beyond the myriad polarizations that are tearing apart our neighborhoods, cities, counties, country and the institutions affiliated with all of them. A highly polarized perspective is likely to miss the insights (even the “truths”) that exist outside it. As the saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
  • Explore and co-create a community that is guided by joining our heads, hearts and hands in a messy middle where life unfolds.

We do quite a bit of this already. Let’s imagine that we want to more fully actualize a calling like this on all our campuses and in the mark our alumni leave on their communities. To what extent would in-class readings and discussions change? Pedagogical practices? Co-curricular programs? Worship services? Student and employee reward and incentive programs? Student admissions and employee recruitment materials? Employee evaluations and assessments, and more?

I believe I am called to engage and empower others in more explicitly formulating and modeling our university vocation. More important, I believe that doing this work and reaping its rewards are part of Cal Lutheran’s value proposition — our differentiator.

If you feel called to be a part of this, let me know at

Happy reading, thinking and doing!

Lori E. Varlotta