My favorite season is fall. But, my favorite time of the academic year is spring. Spring arrives with a mixed blessing for me. With over 20 years of spring experiences, I have come to a point where I simply accept the rhythm of departures that are about to take place knowing we await the arrival of a new cohort of first-year students next fall. Nonetheless, I will miss many of our graduating seniors! It is exciting for me to see students moving forward toward their goals and at the same hearing and seeing them reflect on their experiences. Their love and passion for Luther abound.
One of the springtime Luther traditions is to invite seniors to share their reflections at the April all-college staff meetings. The meetings are offered at two times and thus I had the opportunity to hear six seniors offer their reflections. Whether students are from a distance away (California, Florida), a greater distance away (China, Zimbabwe), or just a short drive away (Dover, Iowa; St. Cloud, Minnesota), it was clear Luther became “home” for them. This does not happen by accident —either on the part of Luther or on the part of the students.
Each spoke of the community at Luther and how important and powerful the community is. As some of the students spoke, they fought back tears. I did too. The students shared of their work-study experiences in dining and catering, custodial, admissions, residence life, the Diversity Center, and more. In each experience students spoke of the influence their work-study supervisor had.
Sandra spoke of how Barb advised her to not lose focus on her goals: “Sometimes days don’t work out and it’s important to come back the next day and to keep working!” Tyler shared that he learned two key lessons from Aaron, which he is carrying forward—you can control two things: your effort and your attitude. For Taku, it was the opportunity to learn how staff makes the stay at Luther pleasant for students. He directly observed the care and consideration his work-study supervisors offered in their everyday work.
Raleigh was effusive in his praise for Julie, who he said taught him that you become stronger after each punch life throws at you. His admiration for her courage and her willingness to stop in the middle of something to help someone else illuminated how critical it is to put others before self. Tayva learned that differences matter in people’s lives and that we can develop an appreciation for one another and each other’s humanity. Her view of the broader world was shaped by her experiences that affirmed how important honesty, work ethic, and being true to oneself is. Finally, Landi spoke of keeping an open mind and heart and that while college students can be hard to please, it is important to remain open and to meet and make a variety of friends.
Beyond their work experiences and the deep lessons they learned, and the classroom and co-curricular experiences, the students shared some other insights. Half of them were not fans of Decorah winters. As Taku noted, Jon Lund conveniently did not talk about winter when visiting Taku at the United World College in Swaziland. Landi will not miss the “endless, brutal winters,” but she’s in for a surprise—New Jersey has winter too! Sandra was straightforward: “Winter will not be something I miss.”
Tyler is leaving the winter of his youth and college experience and venturing south to Charleston, S.C., for his next step. Leaving his geographical home will bring him deepened opportunities to build relationships and to slow down and value the time he spends with others. As he discovered at Luther, relationships matter! Sandra, who was involved in many different programs across campus noted how there are pockets of community everywhere at Luther. She stated there is a sense of community here and that you can find it—in the wide open or in the pockets.
Tayva will miss one of the more simple things of Luther life, the Sunnyside Café cinnamon rolls! But she also will miss the caring people who are passionate about student learning and their well-being. She shared how her experience as a nursing major, especially her junior year in Rochester with clinicals at Mayo, gave her the confidence in her future as a nurse but also in her self. She noted it was a challenging and rewarding year. She values the communication, time management, and critical thinking skills she brings to her new position at Mayo in the thoracic trauma progressive care unit.
Raleigh will be spending an intense nine months as a fellow at a Presbyterian church in Charlottesville, Virginia. He brings to this experience his deep sense of self and the importance of personal values and ethics and how they can inform important decisions. He came to Luther with a deep focus as a varsity basketball player, but came to realize there was more to his Luther experience and transitioned from a lifetime of basketball to track and field. With that transition, he thrived at Luther and became involved in the Luther College Hearing Board. This was a challenging, demanding experience but one that confirmed for him the importance of upholding community values and restoring community after some form of harm has been done.
Landi was effusive in sharing how glad she was to have spent four of the most valuable years of her life at Luther. She will miss the people she has worked with every day but carries forward wonderful memories of her experience. She is looking forward to her masters in business analytics program at Rutgers.
Sandra was inspired by her work in the Diversity Center and the mentoring she received to pursue a doctoral program in order to be a college professor. She is weighing program options and discerning which direction she will pursue.
Taku learned much working in human resources at Luther, and he will be pursuing a master’s degree in human resources or organizational behavior. For Taku, one of the instrumental aspects of his experience at Luther was taking the StrengthsFinder assessment. He said, “I did not know who I was,” but the assessment helped him to focus and get to know himself at a deeper level and to focus on what he is good at.
These six students made the most of their Luther experience. They embraced what was offered and seized the opportunities presented to them. In many cases, they made their own opportunities. When you hear from soon-to-be college graduates such as Sandra, Taku, Tyler, Tayva, Raleigh, and Landi, you must have a deep hope for the future of our society. Perhaps we should not be surprised to see that they will carry the Luther mission forward with them as they seek to serve with distinction for the common good.