Three students’ quest for identity
“For Christ and His Kingdom”: Wheaton’s motto captures an image of a diverse, missional community, and the student body enacts that mission. This week I had the opportunity to interview three fellow students who are each engaging in a unique combination of studies. Through their experiences of changing majors, integrating new areas of study and focusing their academics with an eye for their one-of-a-kind vocations, these students articulate what it means to learn and ask questions in pursuit of individuality.
For sophomore Olivia Pearsall, investing in her talents for music and interest in math is something she was not willing to compromise on when picking between majors. Presently, she studies as an applied math major with a music minor so she can pursue both. Pearsall also pours her inimitable enthusiasm into leading as a CLC in Smith and directing Amplify Acapella. Although she may seem to grow through investin her varying talents and interests, Pearsall recounts that investing her talents hasn’t always been easy or comfortable.
About directing Amplify, Pearsall confessed, “I went into this year feeling very nervous and inadequate.” Despite these fears, she has witnessed God’s grace overshadow her inabilities, she has learned through her role directing Amplify about the freedom of struggling and to be authentic and vulnerable. She told the Record,“This last year has been one of the darkest times in my life but also the richest.” Through the ups and downs, Pearsall explained that learning to walk beside others in their personal struggles and allowing them to walk alongside her has made all the difference.
Chuckling a bit, Pearsall said the breakthrough was when she realized that, “Nobody has their life together. I feel like my life is constantly falling apart and so does everybody else … there is no perfect Wheaton mold.” Her refusal to fit in is the source of Pearsall’s confidence.
Sophie Killeen, a friend from Amplify, also remarked about Pearsall’s stand-out personality in an email correspondence. “I have seen
Olivia grew into someone who is not afraid to put herself out there and grow into whatever God is calling her to be. What makes Olivia unique is that she enters every space unashamed of who God has made her to be and the gifts he has given her and she consistently gives the glory back to him,” she wrote. Despite doubts or insecurities, Pearsall is learning to utilize her gifts to bless others, and she credits her growth of confidence to a growth in faith.
Senior English writing major Natia Weathers’ experience at Wheaton has been a journey of finding her voice. Weathers first connected with Wheaton through the BRIDGE program. Her freshman year, however, she was surprised to find that how people perceived her passions for social justice and diverse representation in college contradicted how she had been perceived in high school. While her time at Wheaton hasn’t been easy, Weathers, with an easy smile and innate confidence, explained that Wheaton forced her to really define herself.
From implementing the question of the week with solidarity cabinet, to organizing “Marching in Silence,” to her current position as president of the William Osborne Society, Weathers takes action to fill gaps that she spots on campus. Weathers’s friend Sammie Shields wrote in an email correspondence, “Natia is one of the boldest people I know. Her boldness magnifies her passions and the love she has for people. She has a unique ability of sitting through the tension and discomfort of what it feels like to speak truth in love.” Through carrying the burden of a passion for truth and for people, Weathers has also learned how to draw on the strengths of those around her and to take care of herself.
“I think when I first started getting involved with social justice issues I really wanted to approach it from a logical standpoint,” Weathers told the Record, “A lot of people talk about trying to leave emotions aside in conversations like this … because a lot of times when you talk about issues with race it becomes an argument … there are a lot of emotions that I was really trying to suppress.” After her sophomore year, the weight of it all was crushing, but learning to care for herself emotionally and relying on close friends and mentors made the difference for Weathers. “It’s really just good people, like staff members, that have made me feel like I belong,” she said. “I think Wheaton talks about intentional community, but a lot of students come here and have to find their own community.”
In May, Weathers will graduate with a degree in English writing, and she seeks to give a voice to others in redefining modern issues and speaking unheard truths. Weathers lit up as she told the Record about the stories she hopes to tell one day. “There are just so many stories that people don’t hear. It would be so transformative if they did, so after graduation I hope to continue writing — not only sharing my truth, but also intentionally seeking out other people’s stories, their experiences and their truth, trying to share that to others.”
During his time at Wheaton, freshman Andrew Beamer has learned how to ask defining and guiding questions. Originally, Beamer planned to pursue a degree in business and economics, but explorations in sociology led him to switch gears to pursue Urban Studies. Whether taking new courses outside of his major or learning from his friends and mentors, Beamer has learned to ask in his own words,“Where am I trying to get to?”
Beamer told the Record, “One of the big things you hear at Wheaton is ‘vocation’ — what you’re called to do.” However, his experience of vocation led to a question, “Where will your special attributes fit into his kingdom?”
When he was younger, Beamer sheepishly recalls studying merely because it was what was expected of him. However, as he develops his conception of education as equipping vocation, Beamer has realized the value of education. Reflecting on changing academic directions to pursue his calling, Beamer said, “I think [my vocation] was always pretty clear to me, but I just kinda wanted to ignore it, just kinda fight against it. Even though I very much knew what my skills and abilities were, I would rather just say ‘oh no, that’s not me.’”
Yet, as Beamer continually seeks the Lord’s direction in his life, he is learning to seek truth, and where necessary, explore new and difficult answers to his many questions. Professor of Sociology Hank Allen encouraged Beamer’s relentless search for answers. “For one so young, I deeply admire his tenacious integrity, receptivity and commitment to excellence in his life and work. He never dodges the hard, complex and difficult questions,” Allen said in an email to the Record.
Beamer is passionate in the charge to live well. In the future, Beamer plans to continue studies in sociology and continue to play soccer at Wheaton. He aims to be a starter on the soccer team next year and hopes to play professionally after college while doing missions work in Haiti. Beamer mused, “It just seems rather unfair that you’d get some blessings and other people don’t get them,” so he resolutely summarized his goal as “trying to equal that out a little bit or doing your best individually to do that, even if there’s bigger forces fighting against that.” To Beamer, Wheaton is the opportunity to explore new opportunities and find his personal vocation for the Kingdom.