These past four years at EMU, I have continued to grow and learn in a variety of ways. I have explored the field of History in greater depth and studied how to effectively share my knowledge with students. That much was expected when I committed to EMU four years ago. What I didn’t expect was the significant growth I have made in understanding the perspectives of others.
Being surrounded by an institution that values non-violence and sustainability was somewhat expected when I decided to attend EMU. I knew that Mennonites were pacifist, and that this perspective would be a complete shift from my home life. Both of my parents served in the military. Going to a school where the military is not looked at favorably guaranteed that my time here would be interesting and challenging in that regard.
What I expected to experience was conflict. I geared up for numerous discussions about the military and the importance of non-violence. While there were still a few of those discussions, debates weren’t as persistent or numerous as I thought they would be. In general, my colleagues were indifferent to my military past, and were willing to see past it to develop good friendships. This opened up my own curiosity about Anabaptist traditions and a desire to understand more about the Mennonite faith, beyond just the outsider’s one-dimensional label of pacifism.
I can say that EMU has taught me several things about perspective. “The first report is always wrong,” is an expression used by many in the military. Essentially, don’t trust what you hear initially because odds are your first impressions are incorrect. If you truly want to understand another person’s perspective, make the effort to engage with others to understand their viewpoints.
I also learned to avoid my echo chamber. Granted, going to a school where a majority of students disagree with you makes this easy to do. However, having numerous friends and resources that come from different perspectives makes it easier for me not only to understand different views, but also to have the desire to understand. Having a connection to the flipside of the coin gives me a desire to see the other side.
Finally, I learned that relationships can sometimes be more important than being right. I’ll admit, I’m stubborn and I stick to my guns when it comes to my values and my own identity, but people come first. Sometimes it’s okay to disagree.
EMU has allowed me to experience personal growth in understanding views beyond my own. I challenge all students to do the same. Build friendships with people who hold a vastly different perspective. It opens up a world of knowledge, or at least lively discussion. What I will miss when I graduate are the numerous people who are always willing to engage, challenge, and enlighten me.