The Apostle Paul faced quite a challenge.
A dutiful follower of the crucified Jesus, and a leader in his own right, Paul had discovered a fractured and fickle community of early Christians. Those Paul sought to lead to the teachings of Jesus kept falling back into old habits. Paul penned the people of Ephesus a letter meant to grab their attention. In it, he urged them to “take off” their old self, consumed as it was with worldly attitudes and actions, and put on a “new self” tailored for a relationship with God – one which reflected Jesus’ dispositions of compassion, kindness and meekness.
My First Monday letters and chapel homilies typically emerge from a theme. This year, that theme is “boundless;” more specifically, what it takes to embrace a mindset of possibility, hope and growth. I used this verse from Paul in my opening chapel talk to students in September, imploring them to envision how they might put on a “new self” by the conclusion of school in May. Successive homilies have extended the theme, looking in part at how boundless thinking reflects an attitude and how it requires us to forge a working relationship with fear.
My First Monday letters have offered complementary riffs on the boundless theme. In August, I shared insights derived from my summer reading. Each book reminded me why unleashing limitless possibilities for each child is a center-point of our Reimagine initiative. In September, I wondered what milieu produces individuals who lead boldly around and through obstacles. And last month, I highlighted a handful of the boundless thinkers who inspire our entrepreneurial work.
Our recent homecoming presented me with the precious opportunity to engage firsthand with living examples of the boundless theme: our alumni. As I move deeper into my tenure at Parish, spending time visiting with, learning from and continuing to mentor our graduates represents one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job. In their emerging life narratives, these young people (remember, the oldest Parish Episcopal graduates are only 26!) demonstrate what leading lives of possibility and growth look like. Quite often, they can trace their boundless disposition to their time at Parish.
Beginning with this piece on a recent graduate still in college and continuing later this spring with the profile of an “older” alum already tackling the “complex global society,” I’ll highlight how our alumni have answered Paul’s challenge to “put on a new self.”
Parish graduates presently in college share common experiences. Navigating new relationships – whether with a freshman roommate or through the fraternity/sorority system, for example – present opportunities for self-definition and value identification. Of course, the exploration of new ideas and exchange of perspectives with bright classmates and thought-provoking professors expand their horizons as well.
But increasingly, the most differentiating and liberating experiences for Parish graduates in college happen outside the classroom. Particularly in their choice of global travel opportunities and the verve with which they pursue internships, our alumni demonstrate their acumen as boundless thinkers.
For Cole Jones ’14, global travel has amplified his learning experiences post Parish. Cole spent the final three months of his sophomore year at USC studying in New Zealand. Of course, studying abroad represents a rite of passage for many college students. Cole, however, differentiated his global experience by embracing a boundless mindset. He constructed a self-directed excursion for himself and a travelling companion which took them to Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia in the weeks preceding their arrival in New Zealand.
Cole’s unique experience, one in which he charted his own journey, chose what he would see when and who he would meet along the way, proved to be formative. By stepping adventurously and curiously beyond the known, Cole discovered a worldview he will carry into his future as an impactful leader. “Understand first, judge second,” is how Cole explained it to me; his journey, he noted, “shattered the preconceived notions created by the boundaries of my own city and country of upbringing.”
If his horizon-broadening experiences beyond Parish have taught him anything, it has been the very relevance and applicability of the “balanced, thoughtful” mindset which Cole says Parish instilled within him. He sees now how “daily chapel and mentorship opportunities,” both with adults within the community but also between students in activities such as Legacy, sharpened his reflectiveness and relational skills. Such attributes, Cole is already learning, will benefit him in a complex global society fueled by collaborative thinking and flattening hierarchies.
Cole returned from his global travel to an internship experience at Stanford University this past summer. He leveraged his USC network – once again demonstrating the importance of the relational capacities cultivated at Parish – then learned how to “communicate with scientists who were a lot smarter than me” as he did heat and structural testing on the largest digital camera in the world. It will be used in the Large Synaptic Survey Telescope which will deploy in Chile to study the transient night sky.
We are so proud of Cole and our other alumni whose journey and discovery of becoming their new selves unfolds before us in such inspiring, exciting and boundless ways!