Ethan Rice | Echo
On Wednesday, May 8, seven members of this year's graduating senior class stood on the stage of Rediger Chapel to reflect on their time at Taylor University.
The Senior Share Chapel is an ongoing tradition for the final chapel before the baccalaureate service every year. Campus Pastor Jon Cavanagh describes it as an opportunity for seniors to share testimony of how God used the campus community to impact their life.
"It's not uncommon for seniors to talk about who they were and where they are now," Cavanagh said. "They share some details, take a little bit of a risk for a chance to connect to someone in the crowd. It's the idea that if they made it through this, then I can make it through."
This year the speaking seniors were Madeleine Burkholder, McKenna Gartzke, Sam Thomas, Cierra Eder, Jenny Miller, Madison May and Ben Davis. They came from all corners of campus, with very different majors and very different journeys.
One of the common threads across the seven brief speeches was a shared willingness not to gloss over the difficulties of life on campus. After several years of harsh divisions boiling over within the campus community, many of the speakers shared stories of suffering and wrestling with God over why they had been put here at Taylor University, out of all the places they could be.
Through all the stories, however, the journey was not defined by the difficulty, but rather the power of the community to uplift its hurting members and the grace of God to teach new lessons and build character through adversity.
"Why are we caused to suffer?" Eder recalls being asked by a friend. "I don't know why, but I am grateful. Without pain, we never have to choose. I chose to run crying to God and give my heart to him, not because I am brave but because I cannot hold it on my own. The truth of my belief is revealed through pain."
The honesty of those who shared offered up a more powerful presentation than simply passing along the platitudes of university life, speaking to the realities faced by every student in their own unique ways. The ups and downs of their time learning together weaves every piece of the Taylor experience together into a grander vision.
Whether it was Gartzke meeting her fiancé on the annual 'Awk-Walk' and moving from naivety to a desire to fix brokenness, Thomas learning the importance of accepting and receiving forgiveness as he built an identity beyond his older brother, Miller saving money and commuting to power her six year journey to graduation or any of the other stories shared, the singular highlight was the radically diverse stories that populate campus and the tying binds of community that hold it together.
This could not be better represented than the closing of the chapel, in which all graduating seniors in attendance were asked to stand to be recognized and prayed over by their peers, a reciprocation of the prayers extended to freshmen at the beginning of the year. Students filed back out to class with the tears of an ending but the smiles brought by a loving community.
Cavanagh hopes that the value of reflection will not be lost on those who were in attendance and that it will inspire more students to encourage one another by sharing their stories not just in chapel but in the residence halls and around the lunch tables. This is something he believes is very important for believers.
"If you went on a Lighthouse Trip, everyone would ask you about what you experienced," Cavanagh said. "We should be doing that for seniors at the end of their college journey. There's something really meaningful when someone takes the time to ask."