The importance of what we care about

Prospective students and their families have a lot of factors to consider when looking at colleges. Campus facilities, program offerings, financial aid packages, location, and that amorphous element referred to as “fit” — these are often what drive decision-making when it comes to the college search.

It’s an important decision, indeed it’s a crucial moment in one’s much larger vocational journey. And it’s a decision that is made under the specter of a kind of skepticism about whether the price-tag is even worth it. “What is the value of a college education these days, anyway?”

In a recent piece in the Washington Post, Jim Troha, the President of Juniata College in Pennsylvania, advised students and families to consider value in an altogether different way, by asking, instead, what are the values of a particular college? Continue reading

The Calling of Place

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Jill Ker as a child in Australia

Several years ago, The Road From Coorain was one of the featured texts in our first year seminar. The first ten or so pages offer a detailed description of the author’s natal land of Australia, and some of the students complained that it went on “way too long” and was boring. When the author, Dr. Jill Ker Conway, visited campus and delivered a convocation address, she suggested that they consider the landscape as one of the characters in the book, which gave the smarter students pause and forced them to reconsider the work. I was reminded of this pedagogical moment recently when I heard the news that Dr. Ker Conway had passed away. She was a remarkable woman and while I could easily devote a whole essay to her autobiography as well as her accomplishments, what I want to focus on is how particular places can give shape and meaning to our lives. Continue reading

Pomp & Circumstance

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https://www.theodysseyonline.com/graduation-speech-for-college-graduates

May is the season for commencement addresses, a genre of writing often marked by platitudes and clichés, personal anecdotes that are of questionable relevance, and hyperbole about the significance of this historical moment or the potential of this year’s graduating class. As people tied to the rhythms and rituals of the academic year, over the span of a career we are exposed to dozens of such speeches. Since most graduation speeches are utterly forgettable, it’s difficult not to become somewhat cynical about them. And yet, they often touch upon important messages about vocation, and so it’s worthwhile to stop and think about the genre and function of the graduation speech. Continue reading

The Way of Vocation – some thoughts for new college grads

There is a new post at Relevant.com that will be of interest to many in the NetVUE community, entitled “So you just graduated from college, now what?”  Drew Moser, Associate Professor in Higher Education and Dean of Experiential Learning at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, offers some helpful insights for new college graduates. “The way of vocation,” Moser argues, is the better alternative to the approach of “simply living it up” or the pressure to “figure it out right away.”

New college grads are indeed given such advice, sometimes conflicting in nature and much of it problematic. Moser’s concerns about “living it up” overlap with what Meg Jay argued in The Defining Decade, a book that has been used effectively in vocation classes. (If you are not familiar with her book, Jay also has a popular Ted talk, “Why 30 is not the new 20”).

Yet Jay’s analysis lacks any attention to spiritual or religious commitments, and so Moser’s new book, co-written with Jess Fankhauser and titled Ready or Not: Leaning Into Life in Our Twenties (2018), could potentially work even more effectively or as a text to augment others. A short review from Publisher’s Weekly concluded this about the book: “Though the tone is light throughout, Moser and Fankhauser provide many jumping-off points for deep contemplation about a wide range of fraught areas for those starting adulthood. Christian readers setting out into the wilds of adulthood will find this a helpful guide.”

If thinking deeply about vocation is the best antidote to the questionable advice given to new college graduates, and to helping alleviate some of their natural anxiety during this time of transition, all the more reason why they should be supported in those reflections through well-planned, substantive programs throughout their time on campus!

The continued relevance of Reinhold Niebuhr

A number of theologians and ethicists have remarked on the fact that James Comey’s new book, A Higher Loyalty, opens with a quotation from Reinhold Niebuhr:

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible.

Man’s capacity for injustice makes democracy necessary.

While commentators remain deeply divided on Niebuhr’s legacy (for both theology and politics), it’s interesting to note that his work continues to come back into public view from time to time. He was also the subject of a recent documentary film, directed by Martin Doblmeier, whose film on Dietrich Bonhoeffer received much acclaim few years ago. The new film, An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story, includes comments from President Jimmy Carter, civil rights leader Andrew Young, writer David Brooks, theologian Stanley Hauerwas, Cornel West and many others.

As we engage students about their sense of calling, about the intersection of their “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger,” the insights of Niebuhr can perhaps help us avoid being too sanguine.

#MeToo and the need for recognition

When it come to vocation, social location figures centrally. Several recent posts here at Vocation Matters have addressed the relevance of social location when it comes to vocational discernment. Last week, Younus Mirza described some of the particular obstacles faced by international students, encouraging us to do a better job of understanding and attending to those challenges. John Peterson has addressed social location as well, reminding us that poverty and prejudice can dramatically shape our students’ sense of their future. This theme was taken up in a much earlier post, written by Caryn Riswold, who described vocation as “enmeshed”:

We all live enmeshed, caught up in various systems of privilege and oppression.  Whether it’s white supremacy, misogyny, heteronormativity, or any other way in which we human societies have found to order and stratify our lives, navigating them is a part of discerning vocation.

Caryn has a new essay published in The Cresset that insightfully connects the biblical figure of Hagar with the contemporary #MeToo movement. In her essay, Caryn relays a story shared by Tarana Burke, one of the founders of the movement, in which Tarana laments her inability to say “me, too” to a girl who, in the moment of sharing the monstrous details of abuse at the hands of her stepfather, most needed that act of recognition and solidarity. It’s an honest confession about a moment of failed mentoring, in a sense, and it lends itself to some tough questions about the work we do with students in helping them discern their callings. Are we prepared to handle what might be revealed in our conversations with students? What are the possibilities for—and  limits on—solidarity within the context of mentoring? How does mandatory reporting further complicate those encounters?

Caryn Riswold is the author of “Vocational Discernment: A Pedagogy of Humanization,” in At this Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education, ed David S. Cunningham (Oxford UP, 2015) and is a frequent contributor to Pathos. You can check out Caryn’s essay in The Cresset here.

Resilience and “holy grit”

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Published in January 2018

A recent piece in the Chronicle (“We’re teaching grit in the wrong way,” March 18, 2018) suggests that by focusing on the development of self-control, we are missing the importance of the cultivation of virtues such as compassion and gratitude as these may go further (or is it deeper?) in helping students achieve the needed “grit” to succeed in college and beyond. The author, David DeSteno, is a professor of psychology at Northeastern University who works on “the science that underlies human virtue,” and the piece seems to promote the key claims of his new book, Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018). Not surprisingly, given his discipline, DeSteno’s analysis emphasizes the psychology of self-control, yet in nudging us to consider gratitude and compassion something even more fundamental (or is it more encompassing?) seems to be missing. In DeSteno’s hands, developing strong interpersonal relationships and the ability to cooperate helps ensure “long-term success.” Students will have increased perseverance as well as a reduction in stress and loneliness and “enhanced well-being” when they can work toward a long-term goal.

Does the content or substance of the goal matter? What are they working toward? And why? Continue reading