Three years ago I was a high school graduate who nervously and excitedly, anticipated what I considered at the time, the start of the “rest of my entire life.” I was scared, reasonably so; moving from Colorado to Tacoma was quite the change in scenery—no parents to rescue me at 1:00 in the morning when I was stuck on a paper, no room to myself (what if my roommate and I ended up hating one another?!), and whenever I told someone I was headed to PLU, I was immediately warned of the rain: “You know it rains every day in Tacoma? And you are still choosing to move there? You’ll surly be back in Colorado by the start of Spring.”
At the time I was a leader. I had served on my church council, had been on the leadership team of Key Club, a service organization at my high school, and had even spent a summer as a camp counselor, educating youth on the importance of purchasing locally grown food. At the time I knew the importance of service. I had completed over 400 hours of volunteer time, and had traveled multiple times with a disaster relief team. At the time I had hopes. Maybe I would be an English teacher or a psychologist. At the time though, I could not have predicted the ways PLU would shape the person I am today.
Today I have become a sojourner. I have traveled “across the pond” twice, and will be making another journey this upcoming January. I first traveled to Kampala, Uganda for a J-Term in 2010. With about twenty other Lutes, I learned the importance of investigating international aid organization before giving money, I learned skills and techniques required for video documentation, and I met individuals that have forever impacted my view of the world. The class challenged my identity as a white American, and forced me to ask questions that I would not have thought about otherwise. I came back to PLU knowing that I had far too many unanswered questions. I met with the Wang Center, and planned a return to Uganda, this time to the Northern part of the country, and Rwanda for the fall of 2010.
With a program called SIT, I traveled again to East Africa for a “post-conflict transformation” program. I studied genocide, post-war justice systems, and the process of reconciliation. It was during these three months, after two incredible home-stay families, thought provoking professors, and indescribable experiences, that I discovered that the study of conflict resolution is one of my many passions. Therefore next January I will travel to Northern Ireland with Dr. Kelleher and Dr. Feller to complete a peace building and inter-community dialogue training through a program titled “Towards Understanding and Healing”, which is funded by the European Union and the Community Relations Council of Northern Ireland.
Today I have become a social justice advocate. After spending my second year at PLU as the Social Action and Leadership Resident Assistant in Stuen and my third year as a Rieke Scholar through the Diversity Center, I have become empowered to be a social change agent. I have been equipped to learn from other perspectives, to acknowledge my own privileges, to challenge norms that exclude members of society, and to question habits of racism and homophobia. I have become someone that trusts that though the world will probably not be the place I want it to be when I die, I can and will make a positive influence on those around me.
Today I am a student that knows the true meaning behind effective time management skills. After staying up far too late to finish papers that I procrastinated starting for far too long, I can tell you that being organized when planning is possibly the most important skill required for success.
Today I have become a member of a community. I can walk across campus knowing that I will probably run into a close friend, classmate, or professor. I can enter the library knowing that there will be someone to answer a question if I have one, and that there will be someone to talk me through the late-night questions that a class assignment might provoke. Today I am a member of a community that knows that my professors want me to visit during office hours, and that though they may give me feedback that I do not expect, it is only because professors at PLU know how to stretch students to their maximum potential. Today I am a member of a community that embraces me, that upholds me, and that supports each of us Lutes as we travel our journeys.
Today though, I know that I have not only become a member of a community here on campus, but that I have become a part of something even bigger, a part of the greater Lute community, After working in the TelALute office, our student phone-a-thon program for three years, I know that when I graduate this place of “inquiry, service, leadership, and care” will continue to shape the lives of current students, and I know that this place, a place that has become like home, will continue to offer encouragement through a foundation that is based in the importance of giving. I also know that Lutes do not take the Wild Hope campaign for granted—we use our wild and precious lives to make a difference. Some graduate to do Fulbright programs, and others continue into graduate programs. Whatever it is that I will do post-graduation, I am grateful that PLU has given me a basis for success, and of course, that I will always have a place like PLU to return home.
Three years ago, I was a leader, someone who served the community, and someone that had hopes for a future of opportunities. Today I am an empowered and equipped sojourner, social justice advocate, and a student that knows that I have, and will always have, a community to challenge and guide me. I have become someone that is dependent on the source of inspiration that I receive daily from my PLU friends, colleges, professors, coworkers, and more—something I could not have anticipated as my parents and I boarded the plane to come to PLU that first September. For me, PLU has and continues to be a place of growth. I can only then wonder, what experiences, conversations, friendships, readings, and more, lay ahead in the upcoming year. Senior year 2011-2012, here we come.
-Caitlyn Jackson '12