A Journey of Joy and Belonging One Grad Shares Her Story

I wrote a poem on graduation day called "Execution."

Most of my black-capped friends were giddy with anticipation that sweltering afternoon, but I struggled with a profound sorrow. My time at Walla Walla University was finished. I knew that meant birth into something new, and I felt well-prepared for whatever might lie ahead. But my time there had been so rich, so fulfilling, that I found it difficult to see past the closing chapter into the next.

My arrival at WWU was a matter of pure providence. I was on my own at 17, with a full-time "career" flipping hamburgers at McDonald's.

One day a church member called and asked if I'd like to go to WWU.

"I can drive you tomorrow," she said. "Classes start in two days." I asked my manager if I could leave without the customary two weeks' notice.

"Rachel," she laughed, "I'm not going to make you sacrifice your education so I can cover lunch rush. Go!"

That day began a journey of such joy and belonging I can hardly begin to tell it here. I enrolled as a theology major and worked grading papers in the department.

The maturing process was not easy. Like most young adults, I struggled with fears and insecurities. But the love of God spoken through my professors gradually taught me to see past myself. I was strengthened academically, challenged and affirmed theologically. I gained confidence that God was real; He had called me for His purpose.

My senior year I went to Kolkata (Calcutta), India, as a student missionary to work in a home for abandoned sick people. The classes and mentoring experiences I'd had at WWU helped me see those I served as deeply valuable. The long talks with faculty, the tutoring, and the bonding fellowship and prayer had given me a glimpse into what the Kingdom of Heaven is.

Perhaps I saw myself in the people of Kolkata, and longed for them, also, to know the joy of community in Christ.

Serving, learning, changing, growing up—these were the bittersweet themes of graduation day. But now they are less bitter and more sweet, for they have been swallowed up by gratitude. WWU prepared me for a life bigger than the sum of its parts.

I think of two beloved professors retiring this year, and remember how we used to gather ‘round the piano at theology retreats singing rousing renditions of the hymn, "Never Part Again."

By far, the greatest thing WWU taught me was how to long for the beauty of that heavenly union. One day, indeed, we shall "never part again." That is our most blessed hope.

May 01, 2009 / Walla Walla University