It seems so surreal that today I will be driving onto campus one last time as a student. How many hundreds of times have I done it without thinking? This place has been where I came to learn, work, serve, and goof off with friends but it has also been home. As I spent entire summers in New Orleans and Portland, I always took comfort in knowing I was coming back to the beauty of Lake Johanna (except for that one summer you couldn't go swimming because of the bacteria), the trails on the other side of the baseball fields and library that make it feel like you cannot possibly be a few miles away from 5+ Caribous, the Billy's teppanyaki and the ridiculous line that comes with its presence, and the friendly faces of Barbie, Festus, Dale, and Katie in the cafeteria. When life has been beautifully unpredictable and other kinds of unpredictable, the God-loving and Christ-following community of UNW has been one of the constants the past several years - whether that was to celebrate or cry with me.
It hasn't been without struggle. Classes have stretched me (like Chemistry class second semester of freshman year) and piles of papers to write have gotten to me at times (I had 7 to write during the first 3 weeks of December in addition to projects, exams, readings, and other assignments). Yet it gave me strength to work all day and all night again and again knowing that I was doing all this for the glory of God in order to use this information and these skills for Him. However, the thing that has been the most difficult is the pushback I received as a woman pursuing ministry. I am forever indebted to my best friend for the countless times her sweaters soaked up my tears. I am also forever grateful for my parents who wrote me letters, spoke encouraging words over me, and received my late night phone calls with grace. Professor Payne and James Earley have been two of my greatest supporters at UNW but there have been many others too along the way. My pastor Matt and my entire Story family have been an encouragement more times than I can count as they have helped me understand my gifts and discerned my calling. For all that struggle, I am grateful. Those times proved to be some of the greatest times of growth in my relationship with the Lord and He comforted me beyond measure again and again. So even in the pains of university life as I faced paper after paper after paper and struggled with my place in ministry, I find myself thankful for it all.
The past 4 years and 3 months cannot possibly be described. The reality is I am a very different person than I was when I first stepped onto campus many years ago. I have grown and changed in so many ways through amazing classes, the words of wise and thoughtful professors, chapels that challenged and inspired me, and the experiences of working so much within Local Outreach. Streetlight alone has changed my thinking and my heart in so many ways as I have heard people's heartbreaking stories, shared in their victories, and mourned with them over the loss of one of our beloved sisters. Through UNW's classes, chapels, staff and faculty, and of course my fellow students I have come to know and love Christ more and more everyday.
Even though this is the moment I have been working for, over the last few weeks I have struggled more than I anticipated to leave this all behind me, especially with the large number of lasts that I have experienced. Now, of course, I am a great sentimentalist, so while not all these things are even notable to some, they have been important to me. In the last few weeks, I have had my last praise chapel, last class, last Streetlight, last teppanyaki at the Billy, last Nest ice cream run, last time watching movies in the Stud elevator, last time walking through the Stud to discover you no longer have to go to the store to buy bread, and last time doing a lot of other things.
This afternoon I will be putting on my cap and gown, which has spent most of its time in my possession under the bed because I didn't know what to do with it. These two simple items represent so much. They symbolize a lot of hard work and to me represent the countless ways I have been supported by my parents, other family members, friends, and UNW staff and faculty. They also symbolize a movement from student to alum and represent the end of a significant season of my life and the beginning of a new, unknown one.
In less than 6 hours I will be crossing the main stage in Totino and by the time I will have made it across someone will have put the case which will soon hold my diploma in my hands. The only other time I crossed that stage was two years ago to sing "Jingle Bells" with my Greek class. (That is a story for another time.) I do not know which is a more odd thing to think about.
The whole point of my rambling is this: I will always be grateful for UNW and the impact that it has had on me. Thank you to all who supported me on this journey. Here's to the Lord's faithfulness as we celebrate today and all which it represents. Here's to the promise of the Lord's continued presence in the months and years to come as new experiences and opportunities await.