Looking through pictures of the graphic design majors’ senior show, it’s hard to guess that just a few years ago, not all of these artists were confident in their abilities.
Yet for Kaelen Rodgers, a senior majoring in graphic design, it wasn’t just a lack of confidence that weighed on her heart coming to Taylor.
“I came into Taylor starving for community,” Rodgers said.
But as she quickly grew into the intentional community the university has long prided itself on, she discovered she could also be that community for others.
A former resident of Gerig Hall, Rodgers remembered late-night Bible talks and a fast-grown friendship with her roommate, whom she met during J-term of her freshman year.
Still, one of her favorite moments was centered around food, with hospitality becoming one of the major practices Rodgers has embraced during her time at Taylor.
“We couldn't really go in each other's rooms because of COVID,” Rodgers said. “But a few of my friends, we got together and we met up in English lobby for a whole Saturday and we cooked this Ethiopian food and we just sat down and had a meal together. And it was like — it took hours. We should have been doing homework but it didn't matter. Because for this one moment, we were able to get together not wearing masks and just enjoy the smells of onion, tumeric and lentils.”
That idea of simply being present and enjoying the company and hospitality Taylor students can offer each other has also stuck with Rodgers.
Even after moving from Gerig into the Wolgemuth apartment, she learned that her new form of housing created an opportunity for her to open her doors to those who needed it.
“[My roommates and I are] constantly making food and sharing with our friends, and having people just drop by randomly without even telling us at this point,” Rodgers said. “They just know that they're welcome. And that has been such a blessing.”
It’s a blessing she hopes to carry with her beyond Taylor, as well.
Accepted into the Pratt Institute, Rodgers will soon be completing the terminal degree in graphic design — and despite the anxieties of moving states, not being certain of housing and attending a secular school, she’s already excited to intentionally expand her community.
“Going to an art school in New York City, odds are I'm going to be one of the only Christians there,” Rodgers said. “But one of the biggest things I want to strive for is to be hospitable and kind, and be reflecting Christ in the kindness that I show, whether we're doing art graffiti or just, like, hanging out in one of the art labs late at night.”
Speaking from her own experience, Rodgers knows well the longing to find a community to belong to. Yet doing so often requires learning to take up your own space in the world. This has been another lesson she’s taken away from her time at Taylor.
Despite recognizing her foundation as a child of God, Rodgers struggled with not only her personal insecurities, but with her worth as an artist as well. Reflecting on her college experience, though, and on this year in particular, Rodgers has realized just how far she’s come as a designer and as an image-bearer created for community.
“I've just been able to see a lot of the ways my art has grown, like, I actually make good art,” Rodgers said. “And I'm proud of the work that I'm doing. And also [I’m] just so much more confident in who I am. I can see the way that I've been able to develop friendships and see the way that I've grown to understand my place and feel confident like taking up space. Those are the biggest ways this year has been different.”
But while Rodgers has never been one to shy away from the hard work she’s put in during her four years at Taylor, she also recognizes the importance of rest.
And as such, her message to undergraduates is simple.
“Take time to breathe and be grateful,” she said. “God gave you all of those things. So if he gave you those things, why do you need to really worry about everything else?”
Taking the time to stop and enjoy the community around you is one of the biggest takeaways Rodgers has gained. And as her foundation has become stronger, so has her faith — and her relationships. While Rodgers came in to Taylor starving, she’s leaving full, living life with an open table and an open door.