Words of Praise

Matt Swenson, Alumni '06

Having spent four years on this hill engaged in intentional endeavors of vocational reflection and discernment with the aid and guidance of the Center for Vocational Reflection - namely Chris Johnson and Amy Pehrson, to whom I owe a great deal - I have developed a clear and certain conviction that my gifts, talents, passion, and intellect can and must be used in the pursuit of a better future for our world.

You must look deep within yourself and ask the questions that need asking in order to understand your unique purpose and relative means of effective leadership and service in this world by a comprehensive understanding of your vocation - vocation being "the understanding of who you most truly are, in and for the world. It is all the places in life where "your heart's deep gladness meets the world's deep hunger." It is your summons to utilize your gifts and passions in order to address the world's deep needs. It is the expression of one's truest identity by living life in a way that benefits others."

"It is the shape your entire life takes as a certain kind of answer to the "Big Questions": Who am I, and why am I here? What's my place in the world, and how can my life make a difference? What does my life really stand for? Is my life today contributing to peace and justice? What will be my legacy?" In order to understand your place in this world and the kind of leadership you are called to pursue, you need to ask yourself these important question and reflect, discuss, and act on the answers to those questions with passion, purpose, and understanding.

And if any of that confuses you right now, I highly encourage you to do both of the following things that have influenced my life profoundly and set me on a course to understand the meaning and purpose of my life, and set me on course in a direction of servant leadership, and subsequently make a tangible difference in the lives of others and the world around me:

1. Watch It's a Wonderful Life and think deeply about the purpose and effect of George Bailey's life in the lives of his family, his community, and the world as a whole and furthermore think about this in the context of your own life.

2. Introduce yourself to Chris Johnson and Amy Pehrson in the Center for Vocational Reflection and exhaust their wisdom and vast resources for the exploration of and reflection on your own vocational discernment.

You will never regret having taken the time to do both of these incredibly important things during your time at Gustavus. Beyond that though, make your vocational discernment process a wide and sweeping part of your academic, social, and other experiences here. Bring these concepts of discernment into the classroom, the library, and your dorm room. Bring them into conversations with friends.

Because it is only in understanding who you are, what you are passionate about, and the overall lasting and meaningful impact that you have in the lives of others, that you can truly serve, lead, and live in the spirit of faith, hope, and love - sincerely dedicated to the well-being of the world around you.

There are many problems to solve in this world that constantly call out desperately in the need for thoughtful, dedicated, and loving servant leaders to take the reigns.

I began to understand this concept after I took a class taught by the Director of the Center for Vocational Reflection, Chris Johnson, called Changing the World in the January Term of my freshman year. Having entered into college intent on getting a degree, a career, and a comfortable lifestyle, the content of that course changed my life completely in a positive direction intent on learning all that I could to equip myself with the resources to act on my convictions and make a difference in the world around me. As I wrote in my final journal entry for the class:

This class has been a very enlightening experience. I have enjoyed every minute of it. I have learned about life, hardship, mystery, experience, investigation, love, hate, justice, and that I have a voice that can be heard by the world and should. I have learned that old age is not necessarily a death certificate, that youth can be wasted and should not be, that before life can have meaning and things can be clear, that one must reflect on his or her life and his or her faith, and that the benefits of conversation far outweigh the benefits of lecture.

Ironic isn't it? I go on to say:

I have learned that expression is not simple but complex and I have learned to look beyond the ordinary expectations... I have learned more life lessons in this class than in any other academic experience of my entire life. But I guess that was the objective of the class.

And here is the most important part of the journal entry:

No joke. I have changed from a person concentrating on the manufacture of my mind and the scheduled sanity of my life in the pursuit of success to a person concentrated more on the reflective desires and internal spiritual wealth of my decisions and future.

Take the opportunity to reflect now, as I did, on the purpose of your education and the place that you are heading as a result. It was by being asked those questions myself that I came to a more comprehensive understanding of why I was at Gustavus and the effect that I wanted my education to have in my life.