Lives are shaped by the activities we pursue.

Perry White

As a youth, I was heavily influenced by activities – in my youth group at church, by athletics, by music and by theater. I daresay these activities led me to select my vocation and thereby not only influenced but, in some ways, dictated my college choice. At the age of 16 or 17, I chose to pursue as a vocation what most people would consider an activity, choral music.

My college choice was guided by the institution’s prowess and reputation for excellence in that discipline. So significant was that activity at my alma mater that 90 percent of choir members were not music majors. However, many chose to attend the school based on the opportunity to continue high-level participation in a choir even while pursuing studies in their intended vocation.

My involvement in activities in high school and college profoundly influenced who I am today. That was where I found a mentor, not only for a life in choral music, but for life in general and how I approach it. It was also where I developed a deep belief in and love for the incredible difference a small, church-affiliated, liberal arts college can make in the lives of its students.

As a teacher who took on a vocation that was, in large part, an activity for many of my own students, I found the value in helping them through the self-actualization process and the discovery of their own worldview, challenging them to visualize the kind of difference they could make in their world. When I look at Bethel College, I see many who have shared experiences similar to mine. I have met many who tell me that their lives were shaped by their activities at Bethel and the people they met in the process.

At a small college like Bethel, our pursuits through activities are often akin to the fraternal experience we seek as human beings. They bring us into contact with people who challenge us and help shape our view of the world. When framed appropriately, activities serve as the laboratory where we can practice what we learn.

Activities help us develop leadership skills. They foster good interpersonal communication. They enhance our ability to work with a group to achieve a common goal. And for many, activities offer a place to belong.

The directors and the coaches who lead activities during college life, along with other students who participate, often shape the way we think about and engage with our world. They frequently influence the way we view and pursue our vocation. They help instill a passion and discipline for our own work – and enabling students to develop that passion is at the core of what small colleges can do so well, because it helps people live deeper and fuller lives. These people, in some form or another, remain lifelong mentors.

As Andrew Delbanco, professor of humanities at Columbia University, states in his book College: What it was, is and should be, College was conceived from the start with the larger aim of developing the whole person – body, soul and intellect.  Thus, activities must not be viewed as in addition to our educational experience at a college like Bethel, but rather as a central part of our educational experience.

In this issue of Context, we highlight a few of the activities that have long and storied traditions at Bethel – things such as forensics, theater and mathematics competition. I hope some of these stories bring back fond memories of your own participation in these activities.

I’m certain that, as for me, activities in some way helped shape your view of the world and have had a positive, lifelong impact on the way you live your life.

Perry White