Since 2005, I have had the opportunity to interact with thousands of Hesston College alumni. This is perhaps the biggest perk of the presidency, and I am grateful for the chance to be with people who got their start at Hesston College.
In some ways, START HERE is a misnomer. Our students actually start in families, churches and schools in places like Addis Ababa, Oklahoma City, Kalona and Little River. But it is also true that for most of our alumni, Hesston represents some kind of start, whether it is the first significant time away from family or the beginning of a new career. As I listen to these “start” stories, several themes are repeated over and over.
The main story line usually contains the theme of gaining a strong foundation for whatever comes next – service, career, marriage or further education. “I gained confidence at Hesston” is likely the most repeated line I hear. Then there comes some elaboration on that theme.
For many, it is confidence in their ability to succeed in an academic area or profession. They earn good grades, transfer and become respected airline pilots, engineers, farmers, manufacturers and health care workers. There is something about the Hesston Experience that gives people a kind of “Yes, I can do that” spirit. It is not arrogance, but an assurance that one is capable of doing what is needed.
For many others, the dominant theme is confidence in relationships. These stories usually revolve around becoming friends with people from other parts of the world or being put into situations that called out their leadership gifts. The intensity of relationships on a residential college campus is seldom matched in other settings.
Included in all of these stories is a sense of spiritual growth – of being gently challenged or questioned in ways that help solidify spiritual identity.
There is no short list or secret ingredient, but there is something in this culture of caring that accepts students as they are and with the stories they bring that helps them gain the foundation they need for the next step in life.