Yearning for Learning
The annual season of graduations is winding down. This year it’s been an occasion for special attention and reflection in our household because our son Kristian graduated from Concordia College. Ascension’s own Miranda Oliverius also graduated from Concordia this year (summa cum laude!). So, our family was not alone in making the trip to Moorhead Minnesota for the May 7th commencement. Two or three thousand of us were packed like sardines into the old gymnasium that’s called Memorial Auditorium. The temperature was warm and the procession of graduates was long, but we were fortified with good music and good speeches.
Concordia’s commencement speaker was a memorable choice. Miquette Dinie MacMahon is a 2006 graduate of Concordia College whose personal testimony arouses renewed appreciation for the privilege of learning. She grew up in Haiti, in a family with an income of less that $2 a day. Her hard-working parents simply could not earn enough to feed their children. Five of Miquette’s siblings spent time in orphanages, and three were put up for adoption. A Minnesota pastor and his wife adopted two of Miquette’s younger sisters. The pastor eventually traveled to Haiti to seek out his adopted girls’ family. After meeting their older sister, Miquette, with the backing of the Rotary Club and others, he made arrangements for her to return with him, so that she could attend high school in Detroit Lakes. She transferred to Oak Grove Lutheran High School in Fargo for her senior year, and went on to attend Concordia College, from which she graduated with a degree in nursing. Miquette clearly has not taken her education for granted. Her tone was that of a woman who regards her path of learning as a kind of miracle. She founded TeacHaiti Program, a Minnesota nonprofit that provides improved education and healthcare for 370 students in Haiti.
As we celebrate the graduations of family members and friends, we might ponder the significance of our churches’ historic commitment to education. The ELCA sponsors twenty-six liberal arts colleges! Concordia, like many of our ELCA schools, was established in the 1800’s, not so long after their founders and patrons arrived in this country to homestead and tend the soil and ply their various other trades! An alumna such as Miquette Dinie MacMahon serves to remind us of something our forbears took to heart and put to practice–education is a privilege worth sacrifice.
Our Lutheran colleges reflect a common commitment to academic excellence with a liberal arts breadth. It is not easy to maintain such schools and commitments in these days of escalating college costs and declining institutional loyalties. I always ask confirmation parents to encourage their children to at least apply to a Lutheran school. The scholarships, graduation rates, graduate school acceptance percentages, job placement records, and opportunities for faith formation may be compelling. There are, of course, lots of educational options: community colleges, state colleges and universities, vocational technical schools, conservatories, etc. All avenues of good learning are to be celebrated.
Before this year’s round of graduations recedes, let’s take a moment to ponder the miracle of learning, and to renew our support of it. If we’re not vigilant about education, the lives of those who come after us will be diminished. School-age children in the developing world have a yearning for learning that is like a physical hunger. On the 7th of May I had the opportunity to witness what happens when the hunger of one such child is satisfied. A learned, poised young woman with a heart to serve others rose to speak.
Pastor Wes Aardahl