My Graduation Anniversary

In honour of the 2012-2013 graduates of Tyndale University College and to all others whose hard work has paid off this year.

May 12, 2012 was a momentous moment 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 22 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 (yes, 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.  “Deborah-Ruth Ferber – Bachelor of Religious Education.  Deborah-Ruth has achieved the Dean’s honour list for the 2011-2012 school year.  Deborah will be graduating cum laude.  Deborah is also the recipient of the Percy H. Harris and J.C. Macaulary Award in Ministry Studies for graduating the top student in ministry studies.”  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 stands 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.  My second and third year as a campus small group leader and going on the retreats again in order to meet the frosh.  My classes with my favourite professor, Dr. Daniel Wong, who taught me so much about life and living and always made our classes fun and educational.  Late nights in the student lounge and the caff studying my brains out and still waking up in time for my 8:30am class.  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 (for the first time in my life) 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 is a young man who attends my seminary who never completed his bachelor’s degree despite being only two years older than I am.  There are other young people who started working at 16 or 18 as store clerks and fast food servers.  There are 20 year olds out there who are already associate pastors despite having any formal seminary education and despite even having a bachelor’s degree.  I see my friends who graduated with me still struggling to find a job in their related field a year later.  I see myself, fortunate and indeed very blessed to have a great job at L’Arche, and yet at the same time, knowing that technically a university 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 several thousands of dollars just to make friends, but now that I have them, I could not imagine life without them.  I never did meet my starry-eyed, tall, dark (literally), and handsome man and get married to him, but I did learn a lot about relationships and trust.  I met an older couple while in university who became my second parents and that should count for something.  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 may not remember every conversation or sermon that I heard while in college, but what I do take with me are the experiences of learning how to articulate viewpoints and how to think critically.  Being with people, for the first time in my life, who were just as nerdy as I am and who were interested in the same things as I was.  I was also stretched and challenged by those who did not think anything close to what I thought.  I learned a lot about forgiveness during my short stay in college.  I also learned that friendships were more important than any student leadership position ever could be.  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 prayer group and praying together every Monday night with a group of other women.  This prayer group still stays in touch and prays together once a week 35 years later – and they do it on a Monday.  My prayer group, which was started 4 years ago, is still going strong… we haven’t made it anywhere near 35 years yet, but with God’s help we may.

I once heard a young woman complain to me about why she didn’t want to “waste money” on seminary despite the fact that she wants to be a pastor.  She said that seminary was so expensive and she could not justify the costs since there were children starving around the world.  I was deeply saddened to hear this.  Personally, I often find these types of arguments to hold little weight.  Unless you are planning to donate all $30,000 or $50,000 or $90,000 or $100,000 or however much your seminary costs to stop world hunger (which I highly doubt anyone would do), 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 you need to be able to go out into the world and articulate your thoughts and visions with powerful world leaders who will actually listen to you because you have some credibility.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to go get a PhD.  Far from it.  To those of us who want to go for a doctorate degree – all the more power to us.  But I am saying that education is for everyone.  To do without an education, is to do without an essential ingredient that is very much needed in the life of our church.  Pastors, especially, must be both scholarly and practical.  Preaching sermons is hard work and if that is your life calling then you better know something about the Old and New Testaments and about theology and ethics.  Otherwise, you could end up doing a lot of spiritual damage and 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.

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