I graduated from The Seattle School in 2013 with a master’s degree in Theology & Culture. Immediately after graduating, I began working at the school as an Assistant Instructor (what some of you may know as a Teaching Assistant). After two years as a student and two years as an Assistant Instructor, I left the school shortly before getting married and moving away.
Before leaving, I was asked to speak at the school’s year-end banquet. It was an honor (as was so much of the work I did at this school). I’ve returned to what I spoke today and want to share it with you. This may not seem immediately applicable, since this was a speech directed towards graduate students, but I was surprised at how much I needed these words for myself. It ushers in hope for me to remember that I can be human-sized—imperfect, wobbly, but, still, full of courage. I hope these words do something good for your heart today.
One of my most sacred memories as a student at The Seattle School took place at Convocation in the Fall of 2012. It was there that I had the honor of serving communion alongside some fellow students and members of faculty. I don’t think I was fully prepared for how deeply moving the process would be. As I stood at the front of Seattle’s St. Mark’s Cathedral, the faces of past and present members of the school’s community came towards me, some with warm smiles, some with streaming tears, some with both. It was an honor unlike many others; a unifying moment with my community, with humanity, with God.
It is with that memory held close that I look back on this past year, my last as an Assistant Instructor here. My years as a student were filled with grief, growth, and wobbly, toddler-like steps taken as I figured out what it means to live into who I am created to be. It was a glorious mess. But as an Assistant Instructor, I somehow felt scared to be that glorious mess. I was scared my “humanness” would show, and others would see me as unfit or unworthy of the position. When would you find out that I, too, am still finding my way—that I’m still only wobbling towards taking ownership of the truer parts of me?
As I graded stacks of assignments, I would read papers two, maybe three times. “Thank you for your work,” I would write as I began my paragraph (or five) of end comments. “Thank you for your work, Thank you for your work, Thank you for your work.” I soon found that I was beginning my end comments with that sentence on nearly every paper. This repetition was deeply troubling to me. Was I sounding robotic, inauthentic, or disconnected? “Thank you, strengthen your thesis, watch your grammar, and nice job,” over and over again. I would wrack my brain trying to think of new and unique things to write to each student, in order to escape my monotonous comments.
And then, my friend and colleague offered a new and holy perspective. As I told him of my experience of the grading process, He understood and said: “I think of it like Communion.”
Christ’s body, broken for you. Christ’s body, broken for you. Christ’s body, broken for you. Each person who steps to the front to receive communion hears the same words of truth and blessing. We each bring our tiny-or-huge failures, shame, imperfection, hope, beauty, and goodness to the table, where we receive the elements and are reminded, by people just as gloriously messy as we are, that Christ’s body was broken for us.
So it is, with the work inside this building. Each student brings to the Instructor’s table their assignment, written in their own way, with their unique personality and perspective, reflecting their strengths and, yes, their weaknesses, too. I read the words you put together with run-on sentences, missing commas, a stunning thesis statement, or a conclusion that causes me to fist pump with joy. And I thank you (and you, and you) for your work, because this work is anything but easy. Whatever the letter grade the paper warrants, I get to witness you doing it, which is an honor much like witnessing the faces of this community walk up to receive communion.
As I bear witness to the courage that takes place within these walls, I cannot not be moved by it. You risk, you live vulnerably, you invite me into your stories, and you write the paper that, one week ago, you were telling me you couldn’t possibly write. You expand yourselves for the sake of stepping (or wobbling) closer towards who God created you to be. And when I get to witness that holy scene, it inspires me to do it, too. This year, it has been the result of constantly being faced with the courage of our students that has led me to begin writing and sharing my work. To risk, to tell my stories, to do the things I thought I could not do—with imperfection, wobbling, and a strong dose of courage.
I see you embrace your humanness and so I embrace mine. I thought I had to be a certain version of someone in this job, when really, I’ve been taught to just be me. So I repeat words of truth to you as I read your papers: Thank you for your work, because not only is it brave work, but it is your bravery that has moved me to reclaim my own.
May you feel the glory of this truth: Christ’s body – it was broken for you.
And good people, dear friends, world changers: Thank you for your work.