Knock, knock. Wait fifteen seconds. Knock again. “Hello? Oh, hi! My name is Alex; I’m the one who’s sitting down with all the families here in Waunakee and talking about the Southwestern Advantage learning system . . . just wanted to make sure I didn’t skip over you. Do you have a place to sit down?” This little conversation repeated itself more than 2,000 times over the course of the summer as I went door-to-door in Dane County, Wisconsin, selling educational books and software to families with children aged from knee-high to high school. I worked more than 80 hours per week over the course of 12 weeks, selling over $19,000 worth of merchandise when it was all said and done. It was one of the most challenging, rewarding experiences of my life, and I was ready to take on sophomore year with a new sense of drive and purpose.
After the summer, I felt academically ready to step up my game. Instead of settling for an easy, noncontroversial interpretation of the world, I decided to continue questioning the hard things and continue many conversations on race, inequality, and politics that began during my first year at Wheaton. Critical thinking and a willingness to deviate from my preconceived notions are shown in the following essay on the book of Jonah I wrote for my Old Testament class. It was the first time I took a written stance theologically separate from that of my conservative Southern Baptist upbringing, which taught that everything in the Bible was to be interpreted at literal face value.
Fall semester of my sophomore year also brought my first class in Wheaton’s Communication department. Of course, Fundamentals of Oral Communication ended up capturing my attention so much that I decided to declare Communication as my major. The latter half of the course consisted of giving a series of speeches, which I decided to center around the theme of giving, specifically within the context of Phonathon, where I now held a leadership role as a Team Captain. Articulating the reasons why one should charitably give served to convince me of the importance and meaningful nature of my job beyond the competitive side of things, competition having been my primary motivator the year before. I was starting to think beyond my own little world, imagining myself in a broader context and seeing how my actions could impact other people.
Toward the beginning of the spring semester, Wheaton’s Office of Multicultural Development also announced a new opportunity – the 2013-2014 school year would be the inaugural year of the Shalom Community, a pair of houses designed to create an atmosphere of learning, understanding, and growth through living in a multicultural context with students from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. After several friends and professors encouraged me to apply, I went forward with the application process and was accepted for residence. Doing so might have been the best decision I made the entire year, as my experience living in the Shalom Community would dramatically shape the remainder of my time at Wheaton and create a previously unprecedented platform for living out a firsthand discussion on race in an actual community. The questions to the application below were lost somewhere along the way, but my responses hold enough detail for the reader to infer the prompts they were intended to address.
At the end of the fall semester, I applied for a supervisor position at Phonathon, but my application was denied. It was kind of a lackadaisical application, done in a whirlwind, assuming I was a lock for the position because of how clearly awesome I was. Although I had grown since the year before, large chunks of my overconfident, self-centered personality had yet to fall off. Through a series of honest conversations with several key mentors, I was able to identify specific areas in which I could improve then implement these changes over the course of the year. My second application below, completed at the end of the academic year, shows evidence of a more mature, thoughtful person in comparison with the over-assuming, far too self-assured version of myself from even just a few months before.
I got it. I was also named a Caller of the Semester after securing pledges on over 95% of my conversations and raising more than $150,000 for the school over the course of the spring semester. I hadn’t learned it all, still haven’t learned it all, and never will learn it all, but I was learning to practice growth the hard way. Sophomore year acted as a sort of starting block into what would soon be a greatly-accelerated period of learning and personal development.