By Quinn Heinbaugh
On February 5, 2021 Principia College held a convocation different from years previous, with no more than 50 people filling the seats in Cox Auditorium. But despite the different appearance due to COVID-19 precautions, this semester’s convocation – with the theme ‘Growth in Grace’ – lacked none of its usual impact.
College President John Williams welcomed viewers both in-house and online and highlighted Principia’s recent successes, including reingaging in colligate athletics and the strong potential of an in-person graduation for the classes of 2020 and 2021. He also reminded the audience that the success of Principia’s gradual reopening is directly dependent on everyone on campus.
Student Body Vice President Elliott Matthiesen then spoke on the process of selecting themes and speakers. To get a better sense of what the community needed to hear, topics were selected based on a survey in which students voted on topics and nominated speakers. Many topics were brought forward, and 75 students were nominated by their peers to address the community. The topics which received the most votes were Christian Science, character growth, and feeling overwhelmed. Addressing these themes were student speakers Noela Nandy, E.G. Pierce, Delaney Gatine, and Sammy Keller.
To begin, Nandy spoke on her experiences with growth. She described growth as being easy, but how adding grace can makes things more complex. Nandy describes “growth in grace” as “the continuous changes that are happening through the power of God.”
Reflecting on her experience as an international student from Kenya studying in the United States, she described it as not being easy. As an international student, she has had to evolve her habits to align with American culture, even to the point where she finds herself changing her accent so as to be understood. The food in the U.S. is also very different than her home, she joked, and she has had a hard time making the adjustment. Despite this, Nandy recognizes that she should be patient and let God take care of what she can’t control. She knows she can turn to God because he can’t let her down.
Following Nandy, Pierce – a junior from Oregon – spoke about his experience with peer pressure in high school. Pierce grew up a Christian Scientist and attended Sunday school regularly but was not prepared for the difficulties that came with high school.
As Pierce’s friends transitioned into high school, they started becoming more involved in partying. Wanting to fit in with his friends, Pierce was persuaded to try marijuana. Though it was initially harmless, it started to affect his life negatively, to the point where aftereffects including a headache took him out of a soccer game.
After quitting marijuana, Pierce dealt with the guilt of smoking for over a year. He eventually admitted to his parents the lies he told them regarding his smoking. His parents embraced him and appreciated the honesty. He realized that God wasn’t waiting for him to achieve perfection
because he is already perfect. He thought that he was disconnected from God’s Love, but he figured out that nobody can be separated from God and his Love for us.
Gatine, a junior from California, spoke next, reflected on a time in her life when she found herself in a manipulative relationship. Though Gatine’s intentions with her friend were purely plutonic, they pressured her consistently to take their relationship to a sexual level, even threatening self-harm as leverage.
Feeling the need to keep her friend safe, Gatine engaged with her friend in ways which made her deeply uncomfortable, only doing so to protect her friend from their own threats. Eventually, Gatine was able to remove herself from the relationship but struggled with self-loathing. She realized that her identity couldn’t be tainted by mistakes, and that these claims of injury aren’t a part of her. She also realized this person may have had issues of their own they hadn’t properly dealt with, and that they could use some compassion. Now, Gatine hopes that these trials have given them the chance to grow.
Finally, Keller, a senior from Germany, spoke to us about being overwhelmed. Acknowledging that Prin students are all engaged in many classes, extracurriculars, and jobs, he pointed out that these commitments can spread us thin.
A house pop at the upper school, where Keller attended high school, made an impression on him as someone who kept a tight schedule of house-pop duties, coaching, working out, and getting a master’s degree – all while being a father. This house pop became a mentor to him, responding simply when Keller asked how he managed to keep up with his life: “I love what I do.”
When arriving in college, Keller didn’t want to commit to anything because he didn’t want to get overwhelmed. He decided to only focus on the things he loves. His advice to his fellow students: “Do it because you enjoy it and do it because it will make you a better person.”
As a parting note, he encouraged fellow students to take time to refresh themselves, even though it might not seem productive – like a Lowrey house run, he said, laughing.