Baccalaureate Reflections on the Journey

 

Todd Eastis '14

May 18, 2014


 
 

As we look back on our four years at Manchester, we have learned a lot. However, there are many questions that I, at least, still have.

One question we all have is what will we do with this diploma that we will receive in a few hours? As the musical Avenue Q says, “What do you do with a B.A. in English?” or in my case, a B.S. in religion and sociology.

Some of you might wonder still: Who is that professor who kisses students hands? Well, the answer is Robert Pettit.

Will any professors add another Jan term class to DisneyWorld?

Why is the final exam for “Experiencing the Arts” always at 8 a.m. on Monday of Finals Week?

With that question: Will Dr. Planer ever retire?

On the notion of retirement, how many times has President Switzer used the phrase “ability and conviction?”

So then, what will be President McFadden’s catch phrase? Leading candidates: “Improve the human condition” or “Energetic Engagement” or maybe “lead principled, productive, and compassionate lives.”

With renaming the Union to the Jo Young Switzer Center, other questions occur …

Is it Haist commons, or Heist commons? The answer here is the later.

Then in five years, what will the Union be called? The leading candidates are “The Switz” and “The Joe.”

Which chimer will play Christmas songs in March?

I have had the personal opportunities to speak to incoming first-years twice at that opening event where students share about faith, service and learning. With faith, I know we are affiliated with the Church of the Brethren. I know that we used to require Chapel, but have not for a while. Many other colleges do, but we don’t. So what does it mean to have faith at a place like Manchester?

The first thing that pops to mind is the many religious experiences I have had. Hearing speakers like Eboo Patel, Shane Claiborne and many others talk about lives of faith. Chapel, Praise Jam and groups like Simply Brethren give us a chance to connect with our communities of faith. And our faith takes action through service, follow our divine call, and working for love and justice.

One of the strongest experiences I can remember is a trip I took sophomore year, with Campus Interfaith Board to Chicago. It was a Sacred Spaces trip where we visited a Ukrainian Catholic church, a Baha’i temple and a Hindu temple, in addition to a service project and helping lead worship at a Church of the Brethren. The three major places were artistic marvels, huge ceilings, beautiful cravings and spectacular iconography. Plus, we got to experience services at all but one of these places.

These places brought about images that I will certainly never forget. They were truly sacred spaces, where the divine touches humanity. It is so easy to feel a spiritual connection during a prayer service in a gigantic Baha’i temple, or even walking along the lakeshore at Camp Mack day each fall.

As I remember from "Introduction to Religious Studies," a sacred space is a place that is set apart from the rest of the world. These places of beauty and wonder set them apart as clearly sacred spaces, but then what does that mean at a place like Manchester that although I think it is a very nice campus, is not to the same level as some of the sacred spaces I have visited.

So then what is faith at Manchester? Yes I know it’s in Chapel, but it’s also in our hours and hours of service. It’s in our communities that we form and the friendships that we make. It’s in our teammates, our classmates, and any other we share in this journey with. It’s in when we are challenged by hate and intolerance, when we step up and show another way. Faith is around us, everywhere in our last four years.

I guess Manchester is a sacred space, set apart from the rest of world, and just because we had four years of our lives here. I doubt any other place will have professors or employers that are so loving and caring. I know no other places will have an organ that we can play to get out all of our frustration when problems come up. We won’t have teammates or roommates to pick us up when we need a push. We will never have an opportunity to ask: “What should I do with my life?” at a place that knows how to graduate everyone from business leaders, to hockey commentators, to Nobel winners. Manchester might force us to have a specific religion, but after looking back on this sacred space, I think we all see where God has spoken to us, whether through a call to a career or through the love of others.

So that’s what faith is: not a creed to force everyone, not a checklist, but a living breathing space. A space that is different, where we are open to follow the winds of justice, to walk along the path of vocation. A space that is inspiring through hearing of the marvels of others, or by observing the beauty of the earth around us.

As we close out our time at Manchester, I picture myself in what I consider the most sacred place on campus: the chime tower. In those quiet hours, before any has been awaken by Hey Jude, or when the day ends with the doxology, I think about all the questions I have had, and continue to have. As I watch the sun’s rays cross the PERC to Garver, to Winger, to the Mall and onward, I know that faith is alive and well at Manchester. I know that God is speaking through all of us in one way or another. That this place is a sacred space, unlike any we will ever be at again.