Friday, August 19, 2011

on christian college.

{at our friend Anthony's wedding, August 2011}

Seven years ago, almost to the day, I began as a freshman at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. The decision that led me to that tiny Christian college in the land of sweet tea and deep Southern drawls had been a painful one. Long my third choice, Faulkner didn't have a pretty campus. The student population was small, and the library made me, book lover that I am, want to cry. But in May of 2004, a professor of Great Books called me and convinced me that Faulkner was the place for me. 

Three months later, I sat in my dorm room in tears, sure I had made the wrong decision. 

Soon, though, friendly faces became family, and I knew my professor had been right: Faulkner was exactly the place for me. 

Now that I'm an adult living in the "real world," I get a lot of looks when I say I attended a Christian college in Alabama. Ironically, people in the world and in the workplace don't seem to care all that much. There are the occasional assumptions, of course, like the fact that I must have received some uber-conservative education, a la Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell. (I didn't.) Or that I must have had to suffer through really odd, strict rules, like weekday curfews and mixed bathing. (For the record, Faulkner doesn't have swimming pools, and trips to the lake were most definitely co-ed. Also? I've never minded rules.)

The worst responses I get, though, are from fellow believers. The day I finally announced I would be attending Faulkner University, I had a fellow church member look at me in disdain, asking why I would waste my talents at some "podunk farm school." Even now, years after graduation, when I sit in groups of Christian peers, they all seem relieved by the fact that they attended public colleges and universities. Just last week in Bible class, I overheard someone say they were so glad they'd never gone to some "religious institution." (I was sitting right there.)

Here is the truth: Not a day goes by in which I am not grateful for the education I received and the people I met at Faulkner University. 

A few weekends ago, as we celebrated the wedding of a dear friend, I sat with bridesmaids and groomsmen who I truly believe will be our friends for a lifetime. Despite differences in geography, politics, and yes, even theology, we all can sit and share our lives with one another. We rejoice together, weep together, and argue together. These are people who are spiritually-minded, both in their thoughts and in their actions. They have a depth and a maturity that gives me such absolute comfort, that reminds me that sometimes, God gifts us with kindred spirits and reminds us that we are not alone in this world.

Comment Magazine recently linked to an article about Christian college graduates that asked if Christian college graduates were "world changers." The author, Ray Pennings, writes:

The picture the data paint is that Christian schools are having a significant effect in the lives of their graduates, but not in a world-changing way that some might aspire them to. Compared to their public school, Catholic school, and non-religious private school peers, Protestant Christian school graduates have been found to be uniquely compliant, generous, outwardly focused individuals who stabilize their communities by their uncommon commitment to their families, their churches, and larger society. This study found that graduates of Christian schools donate money significantly more than graduates of other schools, despite having a lower household income than graduates of other private schools. Similarly, graduates of Christian schools are more generous with their time, participating in far more relief and development service trips than their peers. 

Our friends, now spread across the Southeast, are passionate, determined people trying to make a difference in their churches and communities. That Saturday afternoon, we sat and talked about our struggles, the obstacles we're facing as we try to bring what we learned at Faulkner into the world we now live in, and I knew: These Christian college graduates are touching lives and subsequently, making the world a better place. After all, what better place to begin changing the world than by changing your community first?

I know everyone's college experiences are different. Neither of my parents graduated from Christian colleges, nor did my brother. I admire and respect people -- friends and family included -- who attend or attended public colleges and universities (Go Noles!); I just know, deep down, for whatever reason, that path wasn't for me.

Instead, I chose to go to a tiny little school in southern Alabama, a school that proclaimed they would educate my "whole person," body, mind, and soul. They did exactly what they promised.

This month, we paid off my very last student loan. I owe Faulkner University nothing, but at the same time, I kind of owe them everything.

I didn't have your stereotypical Christian college education. I don't recall any passionate debates about creation versus evolution (okay, okay, they were there somewhere, I just didn't pay much attention). Scriptures and political agendas weren't shoved down my throat. Sure, I guess some traditions fit the stereotype, things like social clubs and acapella singing groups, candlighting ceremonies (which I abhorred) and choreographed musical numbers.

Mostly, though, I was taught to think for myself, to seek and to search, to argue respectfully and passionately. (Did I ever tell you about the time I wound up in the university president's office? Good times.) I was reminded that Scripture is living and breathing, that God's presence can be felt and experienced, and that sometimes, people really are as nice and as genuine as they appear to be.

There's a chance, I'm sure, that I'm looking back on my time at Faulkner with rose-colored glasses. Time, I think, does us that favor. I know that there were not-so-nice moments, people and theology that I disagreed with, things I look back and wished I'd never done (see above: choreographed musical numbers).

But overall, I think, that's what the college experience -- any college experience, small or big, private or public, Christian or not -- is all about: making the occasional misstep as we discover who we are and who we are meant to be.

I'm grateful that, for me, that discovery process occurred in a safe, loving environment at a small, Southern, and yes, Christian, college.


monster cakes said...

I love that quote! I went to a Christian school my first year, and was sad to have left it due to the wonderful friendships that I made and have yet to find elsewhere. It truly was a much better experience than I had at my following two private universities. Well said Annie!

ps. It cracks me up when people ask if I had crazy rules. I saw more parties at my private school than my public university!

Brooke Bailey said...

this made me smile! for the record, we are in the process of getting a new library.... thought that might make you happy! Faulkner University, you shall never fail....

Elizabeth Dean said...

Oh Annie, I wish I'd had that experience at Harding. I found Harding to be a place that was very hard on my spirit (I know lots of people love it, but I couldn't). My friends were, like me, mockers, negative, bitter people and we all kind of fed each other. We spent every meal together yet never, ever prayed with each other or for each other. Harding we was not for me in the long run and when I transferred to UF I fell into a college group that was so gracious, spiritual, kind, and generous I found there what I could not get at Harding. I could not get it because by the time I knew I wanted it I had isolated myself from those kinds of people who saw me as a mocking bitter person. However, when I moved I had a new slate (not clean, but entirely new) and these people embraced me in a way that I think you found at Faulker. We still have a relationship, we pray for one another and with each other, we talked about scripture, sang together, and thought about the Father.

I'm sorry about whoever said that on Sunday (I don't remember who, I don't think it was me and I'm pretty sure I do know who it was). That person has a history of saying things that are hurtful but doesn't realize it. I'm so sorry that your feelings were hurt, justifiably hurt. I cannot wait to see you on Sunday.

Kate said...

I went to a small Christian school in Kentucky, and I think it was like a little four-year taste of heaven in many ways.

Brittany said...

I in no way ever wanted to go to Faulkner. My parents sent me to Faulkner with no choice. Now I look at my life and my husband and babies and thank God every time my bank is debited for those ungodly student loans.

Brittany said...

I in no way ever wanted to go to Faulkner. My parents sent me to Faulkner with no choice. Now I look at my life and my husband and babies and thank God every time my bank is debited for those ungodly student loans.

Annie said...

I applied to seven universities: three Christian ones (one of which was in CO), three public universities in Michigan, and Brown University in Providence, RI. My college decision boiled down mostly to money. Actually, it came entirely down to money, as I decided between the state university I'm at and the University of Michigan. The tuition difference isn't much, but the housing difference was. Living in Ann Arbor, after all, doesn't come cheap.

I say all that to say, essentially, this: I think we tend to overrate the college experience. Everything we hear about in high school is tailored to getting into a good college and the right college for you. But since I've been at college, I've developed the mindset that it's not about the experience, it's about the degree. Do I attribute my success in higher education to the professors I've encountered while there? Certainly. But do I think I wouldn't have found such support elsewhere? No. God brings to us the people we need when we need them, whether we're at college in west Michigan or southeastern Michigan (in my case, anyway).

Don't get me wrong: college, being something we pay for, should be chosen deliberately and carefully. But I don't think finding the right college should be about where you'll have the best time, but where you'll get the most out of the education you're paying for. I've certainly found that. It sounds like you did, too.

Cherry Tree Lane said...

This is beautiful, Annie.
What a tribute to your school.

The sign of a moving writer? Being able to make the reader feel, even when they didn't have the same experience as the writer.

Thank you again and again.

Cindy P said...

I went to a private, Christian college myself. I attended Messiah College in Grantham, PA. And I don't regret a thing. It was the best college experience I could have had. And like you, I made life-long friends.

I love the quote about Protestant college graduates and how they affect the world. I definitely agree with that. Just in how I myself live and how I see my fellow graduates living their lives. There's definitely something powerful about getting that God-foundation and community experience that makes you want to change the world.

Thank you for posting this and for putting into words those things I think about my college experience but couldn't figure out how to express them with words.

*Priscilla* said...

Fantastic tribute to our school, Annie! I share so many of the same thoughts and feelings about Faulkner. Faulkner has its flaws, but we do many other things so well. Thanks for sharing this, Annie! :)

Vicki said...

What a beautifully written tribute to your school. Did you send a copy of this to the admissions office? I bet they would love to read it. Just a thought...

Rachael Lamb said...

I also attended a small private Christian school (Samford). It drives me crazy when people try to say they they got a more well-rounded education from public school. I never had Christian friends until I went to Samford, and I believe that school has done more for my spiritual growth than anything else.

Lex C. said...

I am currently at a TINY christian college in Boston. There is a total of 200 students in my ENTIRE school. Grad and undergrad. I couldn't love your post more. I feel so blessed to be receiving the same sort of experience!! (Just up North, not south. teehee :)

Melissa said...

Well said, Annie! I am so grateful for the experiences and friendships I made at Freed! In no way would I have ever thought of going to a large state university - nor was I planning to go to Freed. But after a fantastic "May Day" weekend with girlfriends, I saw there was more than large universities and I thrived! I encourage young people to search out the right/best place for them, not just where everyone else feels they should attend.