May 12, 2012 was a momentous day in my life. It was the day before Mother’s day – celebrating the woman who had been my mother for 21 years of my life, it was my cousin’s 22nd birthday, it was also the day I walked through the chapel at Tyndale University College for the last time as a student. I still remember the pristine chapel looking sharper than it ever had, the ushers looking prim and proper in their tailored black suits, the faculty all wearing their red hoods and funny looking hats (yet, we students could never stop laughing about them), and the excited whispering that went through my aisle. I still remember my panic – what if I did something to make myself look stupid? What if I walked up to the stage the wrong way? What if something went wrong with the hooding ceremony? Yet all of these fears dissipated the minute my name was called as I stood behind the entrance way leading up to the front of the chapel. I still remember the sound of my cheering squad as they filled the auditorium with applause. I remember descending those steps a university graduate. I do not think I have ever been prouder.
Yet, as exciting as that one day is in my mind, I cannot forget all the events that led up to it. My first frosh retreat where I met some wonderful new friends who traveled with me throughout my Tyndale journey, and my second and third year going back to that same retreat as a leader. In between all the papers, presentations, and reports, I still found time for friends, laughter, church, volunteering, and being part of campus life. Truthfully, I remember very few classes at Tyndale a year later. Sure, there are some concepts that will forever be emblazoned into my mind – namely predestination and complimentary marriage counselling that came in the guise of Theology and ethics classes, but Beowulf, Song Spiel, and dispensationalism have just become words and names to me with very little meaning now. What does have meaning to me, however, are the deep and wondrous friendships that I made, the hard lessons learned, the teary eyed nights, and the loving church family I became a part of. In so many ways, I feel like courses were just the icing on the cake. The real cake was made from long hours practicing for school dramas, being encouraged to step up as a director and producer of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, working for Meal Exchange, and the small groups that I was a part of. Those are the experiences that I simply cannot part with.
At the same time, I often wonder to myself, were those experiences alone worth it? I left Tyndale on May 12, 2012 with the most expensive piece of paper that I have ever earned. That piece of paper cost me more than 2 years of full time work and plunged me into another full year’s worth of debt. That piece of paper allowed me to put three simple letters behind my name “BRE” and to bold and italicize the words cum laude on my resume. That piece of paper was also my ticket into seminary and into the working world.
Except that it wasn’t really. There are young people who have already been working for years without their degree, even occasionally in professional settings, though they do not have formal education. I see my friends who graduated with me still struggling to find jobs in their related field a year later. I see myself, very fortunate to have a great job at L’Arche, and yet at the same time, know that technically my degree is not needed to work there.
Western society prides itself on academics, and yet, the market has become so flooded that a bachelor’s degree is only slighter higher than a high school diploma. The real players need to get Master’s degrees…or they can just go to a community college for a year and work in their related field for less than half the cost that I just paid to finish my schooling.
It is easy for one to become bitter, but truthfully, I think that education is worth it. I did not pay thousands of dollars just to make friends, but now that I have them, I could not imagine life without them. Unlike several of my friends, I did not meet my life partner in school, but I did learn a lot about relationships and trust. I also had opportunities that I never would have dreamed of – organizing homeless food runs, exploring downtown Toronto, and studying at coffee shops. I think I am better for it.
I learned that friendships are among the most important things in the world during my short stay in college. I still remember calling an elderly woman one day during one of my student donor steward shifts and asking her about her Tyndale experience. She said that the best thing that ever happened to her was starting a women’s small group that prayed together every Monday night. This group still stays in touch and prays together once a week 35 years later – and they do it on a Monday! My prayer group is now 4 years old and still going strong… we haven’t made it anywhere near 35 years yet, but one day we may.
I once heard a young woman complain that she didn’t want to “waste money” on seminary despite the fact that she wants to be a pastor. She said seminary was so expensive and she could not justify the cost since there were children starving around the world. I was deeply saddened to hear this. Truthfully, unless you are planning to donate all of the money you spent on school to stop world hunger (which I highly doubt), simply choosing not to engage in academic pursuits is not going to make the world any better. In fact, the critical thinking skills that you learn in seminary are exactly the tools that will enable you to articulate your thoughts and visions to the world and have people actually listen to you because you have some credibility.
I’m not saying that everyone needs to go get a PhD. Far from it. What I am saying is that education is for everyone. To do without an education is to do without an essential ingredient that is very needed in the life of our church. Pastors, especially, must be both scholarly and practical. One needs to be grounded in history, ethics, and philosophy, otherwise they could end up espousing a lot of dangerous theology.
May 12, 2012 was a special day in my life. It was the day that I graduated from university. It was the day that I said goodbye to Tyndale. It was also the day that I said hello to graduate studies, a life pursuit of academics, and to the wonderful women I still call my best friends.
Photo Credit: Bruce Poon (May 12, 2012); Toronto, Canada