By Beth Carroll
Teachers change lives. I know most of you know this. We often ask ourselves and each other, “who was your favorite teacher growing up?” I bet those favorites immediately come to mind, don’t they? I have several teachers and professors who have shaped me and strengthened me into the woman and pastor I am today. But let us not overlook the support staff and administrators who also empower that formation to happen.
My last year of college in 1996 was challenging. Looking back, I think I was in a significant depressive episode and had slacked on my classes, ending my last semester with three incomplete classes, two of which were in my music major. Despite this set back, I had actually performed exceptionally well in school. My professors told me I had a few months to complete those courses and then I could graduate. However, a few months came and went. My depression had worsened and then I found out I was pregnant. Life took off. I got married; had a baby. Then quickly had another baby. My husband and I worked our tails off to care and provide for two little ones. He worked a typical 9-5, I worked retail on the nights and weekends – jobs that didn’t require a college degree.
Though we were surviving, my sense of disappointment in myself and shame festered over the years.
This isn’t the career path I imagined.
It’s too late to get my degree.
I cannot afford to pay for three repeat classes at Hope College to get that piece of paper.
I am a failure.
Finally in 2006, I found myself in a pickle that forced me to get that piece of paper. I had applied for a job that I really wanted, but it required a degree – ANY degree, but a college degree just the same. I had to bite the bullet and figure out a path forward.
I made an appointment with the college registrar, John Huisken, to talk about my options. It might have even been his last year before retiring, yet he remembered me. I was terrified! What if I had to retake those classes?! If so, I wouldn’t be able to take the job I wanted. Dr. Huisken sat me down and quietly and calmly looked at my transcripts.
“Wow, you actually have a lot of credit hours don’t you?” (While in college, I had actually sought two degrees, a Bachelor of Music and a Bachelor of Arts with a major in theatre).
“Yes, I do. Crazy huh? All of those credit hours but no degree.”
“Tell you what, do you care what your degree is in? With all of these hours, I think we can just call this a Bachelor of Arts with a major in theatre and a minor in music. You good with that?”
I was stunned. Ten years of beating myself up and this generous and kind man fixed it all with a couple of computer key strokes. I still am in awe of this life pivot. Dr. Huisken single handedly changed not only my career course, he changed the way I see myself. I still am shocked that not only did I get a college degree, I even went on to get a Master’s degree. Someday, I even hope to work towards a doctorate.
I am reflecting on this today in particular, because I learned that Dr. Huisken passed away last night. A couple of weeks ago, I had shared my story with his former assistant, and she told him about how much his help meant to me. He still remembered who I was!
Friends, we all have the potential to shape and encourage a life, no matter what we do. If co-workers or students are under-performing, check in with them. A little loving curiosity can go a long way. Do your job well and love people generously; you just might be changing a life!
Thank you, Dr. Huisken. Well done, good and faithful servant.
About the author: Beth Carroll has a Master’s in Divinity from Western Theological Seminary. She is an Associate Pastor of Discipleship at Hope Church in Holland, Michigan and enjoys running, the luxury of reading books not required by professors, live music, blogging, and posting wacky life musings on Facebook.