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Two words: Biola students

For about ten Thanksgivings straight, before moving from Massachusetts to California, our family would celebrate Thanksgiving with some close friends in our small town. When we arrived at their house, we’d each get a turkey feather-shaped piece of autumn-colored construction paper. On it we were to write something for which we were thankful.

If I had that Sharpie and orange feather today, I’d write two words: “Biola students.” As the semester is heading into the home stretch during this, my third year at Biola University, I would write on that paper how thankful I am for our students.

In these past few months since we began the school year, my respect for Biola students has appreciated as they have let me see into their lives.

In mid-August, the residence life leaders welcomed me to their hideaway campsite for an overnight of skits and singing, story telling and solitude. I was told I’m not allowed to reveal where we were. It’s a secret. So I won’t.

I was with these nearly 100 students in that unnamed site for two of their five days; five days of no showers, razors, make-up, mirrors, cell phones or In-N-Out. These students, becoming one with nature — whether they wanted to or not — cooked meals for me over open flames and talked with me about life and leadership.

It was great, soaking up each story I heard. And I slept in a tent. I think I’m a better president for it, thanks to these students.

A few weeks later I took nine freshmen guys to Yosemite for a few days to hear their stories. Climbing steep switchbacks in 90-degree heat with smoke blowing our way from late-summer forest fires. We began the journey to a peak overlooking the majestic Half Dome. At the top we found a cold and deep watering hole pooled by a stream. We shed the packs and jumped in before setting up camp.

I asked each of them over the course of two days to tell me their stories. And these nine students from different parts of the country and Mexico did so. Their authenticity and vulnerability spoke volumes about their dreams and their challenges, their motives and their passions.

It was great, soaking up each story I heard. And I slept in a tent. I think I’m a better president for it, thanks to these nine students.

It wasn’t just the tent experiences that reminded me of how honored I am to serve Biola students or how thankful I am for them. But every time I am with students — whether I’m sharing a meal in the cafe or my heart in chapel — I leave buoyed by their spirit and intellect. As I have come to know these outstanding students — scholars, artists, musicians, athletes, leaders, writers … these Biolans who are creative, hilarious, adventuresome, loving, compassionate, occasionally mischievous and usually wise — I have loved my job even more.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for Biola students. That’s what I’d write on that turkey feather.

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