A couple of weeks ago I spoke with students at our regional campuses. Some were finishing their bachelor’s degrees in the degree completion program. The end of their 18 months of courses would soon be completed, and they would graduate and attend commencement on December 11. They were exited, even ecstatic. Other students had just passed the nine-month mark, over halfway done, and could see the way to their goal. A third group was about halfway through its first semester. They were no longer anxious as they had been when they began on the first of August and were gaining confidence in their abilities to learn and succeed.
Beginning a degree completion program is not an easy task. Students may have studied for years in community colleges to become ready. They had to make a commitment to 18 months of concentrated study. They can’t miss a week. Assignments come quickly. Students must balance family, work, church and more. They must work out finances and plan carefully. They must accept some risk and devote much energy to complete the entire program. It stretches each student. If you ask their families they will tell you how proud they are of their mother, father, sister or brother, and they will tell you how the whole family sacrificed to support them.
Students change as they learn. They map out their disciplines and see how the subject of one course builds on or supports another. They develop into professionals, whether in business, education, ministry, social work, nursing or criminology and restorative justice. They become disciplined in their discipline, their area of study.
We see the same kind of development in students in traditional programs, whether undergraduate or graduate. However, the development is slower and not as clear. Undergraduates study many subjects as they begin to develop the experience the adult student brings with them, while graduate students are often employed in their field of study, blending their professional development into their work. It takes a few years, but undergraduates write, think and work with greater sophistication and graduate students approach their field with a broader, deeper perspective that allows them to use their specialized knowledge to develop their work in unexpected ways.
Observing this development is one of the rewards of being a professor, or working with students in other capacities, such as in co-curricular settings or in campus offices. There is an even greater reward when we see students integrating biblical knowledge with their discipline, viewing the world through the lens of Scripture and making personal commitments with a deepening faith. This process is woven into every program, and can break out at seemingly unplanned moments—those big “ah ha!” times.
Right now, if you are reading this as it is published, students in all programs are preparing to take finals or complete those last culminating presentations or projects. Some will work long, long hours. Some will become anxious. All will work with a growing confidence and mastery of their field. They have learned the language and tools of their discipline. They have become professionals who integrate biblical understanding with the understandings that come from a broad study of the arts and sciences. They, and we who work with them, recognize the change and growth they have experienced. Their sense of accomplishment is great, and should be!
In nine days, on December 11, we will celebrate about 450 students at a commencement ceremony at Selland Arena in downtown Fresno—we have outgrown the main campus. Around 6,000 loved ones will be there to share in their achievement. That deepening and growing professionalism and that ability to think in new ways that bring health, healing and opportunity to places where students live, work and serve is hard to measure, but it is the true outcome of the education we pursue at Fresno Pacific University. It is not just knowledge. It is a transformation.
This is what students work toward, whether they know it or not, and this is what we really celebrate at every commencement. Those degree completion students I met with a couple of weeks back will join traditional undergraduate and graduate students in exemplifying their readiness to serve and lead as FPU alumni. Celebrate with them and us!