Every morning I start my day with prayers that are filled with gratitude. Gratitude that the morning sun is shining, and the trees and flowers are blooming with spring’s arrival. Gratitude that COVID-19 rates are decreasing in the Valley and we are beginning to live life with a greater sense of “normalcy.”
I am grateful to have been able to work from home this past year. I am my mother’s caretaker, (though I believe we are taking care of each other). The time spent with her has truly been a blessing. God has gifted me this special time to hear stories, share memories and find humor in the highs and lows of human aging. However, I am ready to begin the process of returning to my office and meeting with students in person (in the near future). I have missed both my team and my students!
As an advisor to regional campus students, the warmth of spring reminds me of registration, graduation and the new academic year. This is the second year we are “meeting” students through Zoom, phone or email. The last few months has been a flurry of online activity! God has called me to serve FPU students and help them complete their degree and move forward in their life and career, and I am grateful for every day. My students trust me to hear their concerns and sometimes their tragic stories and pray with them when they need a guiding hand in their journey. I have heard about illness, death, fatigue, stress and loss of employment, as well as healing, strength, perseverance and happiness. To witness the resiliency and strength of our students throughout this year leaves me both amazed and thankful.
I can see the daily changes of spring and the emerging heat of summer from my office window. It is my favorite time of the year, especially with the end of spring semester and graduation…a time to celebrate our students’ hard work and dedication. I understand the disappointment this year for students whose dream was the traditional “walk across the stage,” but the joy in finishing their B.A. degree is evident in the number of students taking part in the virtual ceremony!
I love sharing in these moments with students. In the months before their last semester, I give them a positive “push” when they are feeling tired and burned out. I hear their excitement when they register for their final semester of classes and complete their graduation application. This past Saturday, when their names were announced, I was one of my student’s most spirited cheerleaders! I am grateful to witness this special time in their lives.
In the 11 years I have been at FPU, I have had many connections with students, but one particular student stands out in my memory. A student came to our Bakersfield campus a few years ago, looking to complete his B.A. in business. His story exemplifies the struggle many immigrants face in building a better life in the U.S.
He worked in the oil industry in Bakersfield and needed to further his advancement with a B.A. degree. Born and raised in Iran, he moved to the UK when violence and political changes threatened his family and future. After learning English, he immigrated to the U.S. with his wife and ended up in Bakersfield, working and raising his family. As a Christian man, he felt God had brought him to FPU. “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Graciousness exuded from him. Every day he came to class, he walked in with a smile on his face. He was friendly and gracious to his classmates and instructors, to our front office staff and to me. Every time we met, he would share how grateful he was to have the opportunity to complete his degree at FPU. Even when he was laid off due to plummeting oil prices before his final semester and despite his worry about his family and future, he was steadfast in his goal to finish. His gratitude for what God had given him buoyed his faith. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” I was humbled by the dangers and pitfalls he endured in leaving his home country and amazed that he ended up in Bakersfield, graduating with honors from FPU. In the months to come, he was able to find part-time work and eventually found another position with an oil company and continued in his educational path to a graduate program at California State University Bakersfield. This student is just one example of why I am so grateful to do God’s work.
When I listen to the stories about how and why students choose FPU, I feel both wonderment and gratitude that I can “walk” with them, advocate for them, cry with them, pray with them, cheer them on and celebrate in their educational journey with them. It is a gift that I open every day.
This has been a tough year and a year of gratitude. Congratulations to our graduates, onward to our current students and welcome to our new Sunbirds! I thank God for his many blessings in my work, in the health of my family and friends, in my FPU family and in the renewal of spring!