OUTLOOK COLLEGE PARTNERSHIP AWARD WINNING ESSAY BY HANNAH RASMUSSEN
Family members warned me of Macalester’s secular reputation. It’s true that the religious community is small. But this has been the best imaginable environment for my spiritual growth. After all, a mustard seed is small too.
Applicants seek out colleges with a low student-to-faculty ratio, where professors invest in their students one-on-one. At my school, I benefited from the ratio of Christian student leaders to mentors. Toward the end of my first year, all the leaders of the Christian group were graduating or going abroad. So our group chose me to be president as a rising sophomore. My mentor encouraged me to attend leadership training for the month of July. To complete the leadership training, I had to craft a speech envisioning our group’s future. I panicked. Our tiny group didn’t even have a current email account, much less a vision statement.
Then I researched the college’s Presbyterian roots. The context breathed life into the school’s four pillars: scholarship, service to society, internationalism and multiculturalism. I resurrected the founder’s vision instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. When I returned to campus, I told our Christian group how each of the four pillars had God as its foundation — seeking God’s truth, serving like Jesus, making disciples of all nations and displaying heaven’s diversity on earth.
I realized that if my mission was tied to Macalester’s, my voice on campus mattered — and not just in the Christian community. I found myself quoting the Macalester website: “Global citizenship begins with responsible and reflective local engagement.” So I began putting down roots here.
I became a resident assistant. I spoke up at a community forum about how sexist and anti-religious sports cheers made me feel. I assessed academic advising with a faculty task force. I was even invited to present a poem to the entire first year class during orientation about finding home in spiritual community. Discovering my values in the college’s history empowered me to be a leader in its present.
But Macalester has not simply prepared me for on-campus leadership. Since day one, my involvement with Macalester’s Lilly Program on service and vocation has stretched me to engage with the Twin Cities. I gathered with other students to teach English to elderly Somali women, tutor third-graders in an after-school program and discuss vocation. My second year, I facilitated volunteering and reflection.
The chaplain who founded the Lilly Program drew from Presbyterian theologian Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” As a missionary kid, I’d heard of callings, but had spent little time reflecting on my own calling. This past summer, I lived in an intentional community called the Lilly House. All 10 of us residents explored our vocation through a summer internship and dinner discussions. I interned at a local church that sponsors seven different ethnic congregations, coordinating intercultural celebrations and social justice work. At the encouragement of another mentor, I also presented my experiences at a discernment retreat.
Up to this point, my experiences had seemed disconnected. Then I started listing them in my journal. Residents in my dorm relied on me for support, as did several friends struggling with mental health. Our Christian group needed a leader again, so I had stepped in. I read Christian books and wrote a youth group curriculum in my free time. I met weekly with a rabbi to learn Hebrew and a Christian thinker to study theology. I apprenticed and then interned at my church. Our school lost two chaplains within a few months. Heartbroken students protested. Then, I received an email that our head chaplain was leaving for another position. Reflection helped me piece together these experiences, step back and see my call. I realized the world was hungering for spiritual leadership. As I had responded to these needs, I had unwittingly discovered my deep gladness.
A school of 2,000 may be an unlikely place to grow world changers. But we have alumni like Kofi Annan and Walter Mondale. Margaret Mead’s quote seems especially applicable to Macalester: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
The mustard seed found its roots. It grew bushy branches. It found its calling. So it called to burdened birds: come and rest.
Reprinted with permission of the Presbyterian Outlook (view on their website).