Chase ’24 lived two very different lives in high school. During the day, he attended Lexington Christian Academy, a private school whose students mostly lived a privileged lifestyle. At home, his life was more encumbered. His single mother has a disability, and he had more responsibility and fewer material things than most of his classmates. Transportation was one issue; he had to drive his mom to and from work and himself to and from school. Rather than seeing his home life as a burden, the sophomore says, “I enjoyed it, actually. I figured out how to use what I had.”
As he looked to life after high school, Chase knew he needed a bachelor’s degree to pursue a career in his passion: sustainability and environmental science. He looked at Ivy League schools and was accepted to other schools as well as Berea. But he knew Berea was the place for him after his first visit. And while at first blush his financial paperwork made his financial picture look rosier than it actually was, the school looked beyond it to his real need for assistance.
“Everything I saw of Berea caused me to fall in love. It is a hidden gem of the state,” he says. “Berea listened to my story and gave me this wonderful opportunity I wouldn’t have gotten at any other place.”
The feeling that he had found the right fit only got stronger as he embarked on his college journey. Chase vividly remembers the feeling of being a new student who didn’t know anyone else. The Orientation Team played a key role in easing his transition. The first activity he attended was a movie night. As he worked up the nerve to talk to people, his confidence grew and interacting became easier.
The team also helps students get acclimated by providing personal tours, helping them find offices on campus to access resources like laptops and parking passes. Their activities made such an impact on Chase’s first-year experience that he joined the Orientation Team to offer the same warm hospitality to incoming students.
“It is a loving, vibrant environment with people who genuinely care,” he says about the group.
As the sophomore advances into his college experience, he keeps finding ways to connect and find his place. This year he was elected as a Student Government senator, representing his class and working toward changes in the dorm visitation policy. “Here, it is small enough to get to know everyone,” he says. “We are a big family. I wouldn’t trade it.”
The campus vibe of curiosity, acceptance and self-discovery is a good fit. Chase has found an intellectual home at Berea. Attending convocation showed him that there were other Berea students who shared his interests and passion. Rather than requiring attendance at convocations during the pandemic, Berea has made them optional. While attendance can give a GPA boost, Chase has attended more than the required number and says, “They are always packed. People legitimately want to learn. They are respectful and ask questions.”
On a personal level as well, Chase has a deep appreciation for the openness of the campus community. Since attending Berea, he has realized a new facet of himself as part of the LGBTQPIA+ community. He knows his ability to recognize and claim this identity emerged because of the College atmosphere.
“People are willing to talk about it here, and I really appreciate that,” he said. “Everyone has a deep level of understanding of self, more than any other community I have been part of.”
And at Berea, Chase’s family responsibilities and less-privileged background are not unusual. Other students, like Chase, have built confidence and resilience out of necessity as they have overcome their own challenges. There is a certain humility and level of responsibility among the students, a sense that people understand the magnitude of the gift they have been given, that this is their best opportunity.
“I am obligated to try my hardest to give back to my mom all that she has given me growing up,” he said. “Students think about how someone is paying for them to be here. It is bigger than ourselves.”