Berea College has always been a supportive environment for me. I grew up in the gray-green tiled halls of Draper where my father taught English courses. I’d sit in his office and marvel at all his pens, coloring with the ones that weren’t yet dead. I learned to swim and float from Coach Roland Wierwille. I cruised campus on my pink bicycle with purple and white handlebar streamers whipping in the wind. In high school I would take our yellow lab-mix, Max, for a walk around the shade of the quad, for a hike in the deep woods of the Pinnacles or to play in the creek and cross-country trails behind the Alumni field. In high school, I studied French with Madame Marie-Madeleine Watkins. The College was always a safe and welcoming place where I was free to learn. Now, as I approach nearly a decade as an employee at my alma mater, I can reflect more accurately on the unique support Berea has given me from childhood through college to my professional career. I can tell you, the gifts are innumerous.
I graduated from Berea, but many might not know I took a year break just before the start of my sophomore year. I withdrew (some feared forever) and moved to Lexington where I enrolled the following year at Transylvania University on a two-year tuition exchange. Though the school was similar in academic prestige and size, the culture was very different. I am forever grateful for my time at Transy, as it afforded me the autonomy and change I needed while continuing at an esteemed liberal arts college, but Berea has given me so much more. Literally.
When I returned to Berea my senior year, I was given a laptop. That was hugely helpful. As a non-traditional student and townie, I always had to commute to computer labs and that was particularly hard in a bigger city like Lexington, especially while also working to afford my living expenses. I received intangible gifts, too. I traveled to Mexico for January short-term arriving the night of the celebration of the Three Kings in Mexico City. I remember us all walking closely together while marveling at the city, loud and lit up in festivity, color, fresh food—the sounds of celebration surrounded us in music and voices. We studied mostly in Morelia, but we also climbed the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán. We took a boat across Lake Pátzcuaro to the island of Janitzio and explored the statue of José Maria Morelos. I scaled sharp lava to see the church of San Juan Parangaricutiro which had been mostly buried by lava but still stood despite the volcano. I saw huge murals decorating walls by Diego Rivera. My gracious host family, the emersion in Mexican culture and the Spanish language and all the unforgettable experiences were truly a priceless gift.
Berea College also helped me stand out in résumés, giving me leverage through its accolades as a top-ranked school with an incredible work program. As an employer, Berea has also made me more remarkable as a human being. The college provides continuous education beyond the standard classroom. It has supported and given me the means to attend trainings and programs that have helped me to grow not only as an employee, but also as a citizen, particularly in Jackson County where I own a farm; as a friend and colleague; and as a spouse, daughter and sister. I give enthusiastic praise to the programs offered by the Brushy Fork Institute. One of my favorite opportunities was completing a six-month leadership program in Jackson County. We came together, some of us as strangers, and established a goal of reducing litter in the county and educating citizens about local ordinances. I am proud of the work we did with the elementary students, our booth at the fair, which included a large cut-out for photo-ops and our group cleanup. But I’m especially proud I was able to design a flyer about the local trash and burn ordinances that went into our local paper as an insert for distribution. The Brushy Fork Leadership Summits always leave me energized from having connected with new people who share goals of improving their communities. I have grown my administrative skills including organizing meetings and structuring them for more productive outcomes.
Berea has provided safe spaces to discuss diversity and equality and the tools to work on understanding and inclusion. I am a better version of myself today because of Berea’s supportive environment, and for that, I am thankful.