Today my oldest son started preschool. It is still only half of a day, but this year it is three days a week. Soon enough he will go everyday, all day, and he will do it for years. The older I have become the more I have grown to love the idea of an academic year. This is a far cry from when I lived it every day in grade school and high school. In fact, in seventh and eighth grade I did all I could to avoid going to school, more often than not for reasons unrelated to academics. In high school, I didn’t care much about my studies. I did not finish last in my class of over six hundred, but i was no where near the first. Comfortably overlooked in the middle was right where I wanted to be.
After high school I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was working a part time job, enrolled in classes part time at a community college that I had no intention of actually attending, and ended up failing both of them. The one thing I was looking forward to was spending a week with the youth group at my church as we all descended upon the city of Orlando for what is known as the National Youth Gathering. Twenty-five thousand youth connected to my denomination were there, including my wife. We actually stayed at the same hotel, but we did’t find that out until much later.
It was that event that began my academic career in earnest because from there I was encouraged to attend what was then called Concordia University River Forest. Thanks to a facebook reminder the other week, I realized it was fifteen years ago. At Concordia I really started to find my niche, unsurprisingly in a subject I thoroughly enjoyed at in my Lutheran grade school, even if my grades showed that. In college I felt most comfortable in those theology classes. Challenging fellow students, and at times professors, often to my own detriment, became a beloved pastime. Still though, the pursuit of high marks across the board where a transcript is concerned never seemed to be on my radar.
Going from one Concordia to another didn’t change much in the pursuit of academic excellence all that much, at least not until after I had quit Concordia Seminary and then, after finishing an MA somewhere else, came back (more on that another day). From that second time around at Concordia Seminary, where I earned my M.Div. and was certified to be a Lutheran pastor in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, on through my time at United Lutheran Seminary, where I graduated with a STM, I didn’t just want to coast, I wanted to excel.
In many ways I believe I did excel, not just because some of my work has been published, but because I know how my time at every institution I have studied at has formed and shaped me as a husband, father, pastor, theologian, and child of God. The academic year has played a major role in my personal formation, so much so that I yearn for it to be a regular part of my life. It has been over a year since I had a place to call my academic home, since I had a place outside of my family and my congregation that would push me to grow in unexpected ways like academic institutions are want to do. I am glad that time has come to an end.
Thanks to some very generous scholarships, funding opportunities, my congregation, and most of all my wife and family, I am beginning PhD studies this fall at the University of Birmingham in the UK. Although, I will spend some time on the campus at various points during my career as a student, it is a distance program which means my supervisions will be done mostly via Skype. While I couldn’t be more excited to work with my supervisors, to do the research, to write, to receive feedback, and to be involved in an academic community again, I am most excited that my life feels the rhythm of an academic year once more.