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Rockbridge Academy Blog

Trusting God with College Plans

April 28, 2022
By Sarah Soltis, Class of 2020

In the fall of 2019, I danced through the halls of Rockbridge with a head held high and a smile secured, for I regarded myself as the early bird who had “gotten the worm.” Before senior year started, I ordered my path for the next season of my life. I applied to the College of William and Mary to study English in W&M’s Joint Degree Programme with the University of St. Andrews; I was accepted and ready to attend before the new year. Even Covid-19, when it came, could not diminish my eagerness for my neatly-crafted plan.

A Zoom bible study early in the pandemic directed my attention to Proverbs 16, particularly verse 9: “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” While I nodded along to my peers’ reflections regarding the Lord’s sovereignty despite the virus’s disintegration of man’s plans, my heart stood secure against the truth of the proverb. Blessed, as I was, with rich resources of fellowship and support through my family and the Rockbridge community, I felt little of the pandemic’s mutilation until I left for school.

My first semester revealed not only the virus’s disintegrating effect but also my own pride in planning. By my calculations, if I could only attend a prestigious school, participate in an international program, and do so while achieving good grades and making good connections, I would arrive at a state of accomplished contentment. My efforts, I imagined, would yield happiness.

I completed my supposed prerequisites. Still, my desired result–satisfaction in my work as a student, as well as contentment and spiritual peace in my everyday life–evaded me. When I worked harder, I felt even more discontent.

Upon return after my first semester, the truths I had attempted to scurry away from found me out through various unexpected pathways, such as subbing for my mother’s fifth grade class and working in children’s ministry at my church. Simple truths that I taught to children–including verses like “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want” and ideas like “God is in control” and even “Jesus loves me, this I know”–riddled my sense of self-sovereignty.

Over the course of several months, I learned to listen to the Lord as he led me “in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Such listening prodded me to consider that perhaps I, with my perfectly-ordered path towards success, could be mistaken.

Our culture feeds us the notion that mastery over one’s own plans is inherently good. Such self-actualization sates the human hunger to declare oneself “master of my fate, captain of my soul”–a hunger that has been grumbling since Adam and Eve tasted the bitterness of sin. Yet the myth of self-actualization cannot provide sustenance for life or satisfy the soul.

As Augustine wrote in The Confessions, addressing God, “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” In finding my sustenance and rest in the Lord’s plans rather than my own, I released my schema of prestige and international opportunities and began the process of transferring schools.

Contrary to the notions of our culture, the Lord provided a place for me, as he provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. In the end, I am not, after all, that triumphant early bird with his self-selected worm but a bird fed by my Father.

Submission to the Lord’s rod and staff must not be a singular stance but a daily posture.

C. S. Lewis famously wrote that “relying on God has to begin all over again each day as if nothing had yet been done.” Since transferring to Grove City College last year, I have often reminded myself that submission to the Lord’s rod and staff must not be a singular stance but a daily posture. Surrender, especially of a seemingly-satisfactory schema for success, requires faithful practice, but the Lord has rewarded my surrender, opening further unexpected pathways before me.

The Valley of Vision contains a prayer I often return to during this practice of surrender: “I rejoice to think that all things are at thy disposal, and I love to leave them there. Then prayer turns wholly into praise, and all I can do is to adore and love thee.” May we indeed rejoice as we release our plans into the Father’s hands.

Sarah Soltis (class of 2020) is studying English and classical studies at Grove City College. She writes for GCC's newspaper, The Collegian, and the cultural magazine, Cogitare Magazine. Sarah works as an editorial intern for the online and print magazine Front Porch Republic, and she has contributed to Front Porch Republic, as well as The American Conservative and several online literary magazines. This summer, Sarah will be working at The Trinity Forum, a D.C.-based non-profit focused on cultivating Christian thought on faith and culture.

Posted in Upper School

Three Lessons from the Thesis Process

April 12, 2022
By Emily Scheie, Upper School Literature Teacher and Middle School Cross Country Coach

When people asked me “What do you teach?”, I would sometimes say, “A research, writing, and speech class for juniors and seniors. It’s called ‘rhetoric.’” But it is more than that: rhetoric is a capstone of a liberal arts education, and success is measured less in information or skills students acquire (research, writing, speech) than in the kind of people students become. Don’t misunderstand me—we cover a lot of information in rhetoric, from the sonnet structure to the power of MLK Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. . . . But the core of a liberal arts education is for students to become self-disciplined, independent learners who can serve the world with their wisdom. The junior and senior thesis projects are opportunities for students to do just that.

First, the thesis is an exercise in self-discipline. The final product does not come about in a day’s work. Students must determine a worthwhile topic, develop a feasible research question, track down trusted resources, understand experts on all sides, glean pertinent evidence, develop their own ideas, organize their thoughts into an outline, articulate their argument in clear writing, turn their written argument into a compelling speech, present their argument before an audience, and answer that audience’s questions. Don’t worry—we lay out many, many checkpoints, with feedback and instruction along the way. But the ability to accomplish such a project takes practice (part of the reason for including both a junior and a senior thesis in the curriculum), and students who try to track down the necessary sources the night before the note cards are due learn the pain of procrastination.

Second, the thesis is an exercise in independent study. I frequently tell my students that my goal is to work myself out of a job, meaning that I want them to no longer need a teacher in order to learn whatever they want. Students of a liberal arts education should be prepared to tackle the topics that come their way, and the thesis projects are an opportunity for students to put their ability to the test. From nuclear energy to separation of church and state, from embryonic stem-cell research to the value of fairy tales, the thesis topics are as varied as the students’ interests. The thesis shows they have the skills to be lifelong learners, coming to biblically-grounded conclusions with less and less direction from a teacher.

Finally, the thesis is an exercise in sharing ideas with an audience. Over the years, I have been inspired by lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “IF”: “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, / Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, . . . / Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, / And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!” I want my students to be able to speak before both kings and commoners with virtue and clarity. The Apostle Paul gives a biblical model of this in his own ministry and charges us in Ephesians 4 to use our skills to build up the body of Christ. I know I have been built up by listening to many thesis presentations from my students. They have done the hard work of thinking and writing, and at the end of the year they have shared their work with others through public presentations.

The rhetoric work of Rockbridge students has frequently reached a wider audience through speech competitions such as the Rotary Club 4-Way Test speech competition, the VFW Voice of Democracy competition, and the Association of Classical Christian Schools Chrysostom Oratory competition. These audiences have recognized the excellence of our students’ work on a state and national level. Many students, though, celebrate triumphs that never gain accolades at award ceremonies—persevering through an apparent dead-end in research, finding the perfect phrasing for a sentence, and learning to listen to classmates who disagree and to seek biblical unity on difficult issues.

In his small book The Idea of a Christian College, Arthur F. Holmes captures part of my aim in teaching: “To teach a person to read and to write is to teach him to think for himself, to develop more fully the possession of his God-given powers” (p. 31). In some sense, I am still teaching students to read and write. They are simply reading academic journals and writing a 20-page persuasive essay. But in response to “What do you teach?” maybe I should say, “I am helping students develop their God-given powers,” and I’ve found the thesis to be a helpful tool towards that end.

Emily Scheie is a teacher who is grateful to share the joy of learning with her students. Outside the classroom, you might find her coaching cross country, taking graduate classes in linguistics, or reading for book club (with a mug of tea in hand). She is a sister to six siblings and three siblings-in-law and is an aunt to a growing number of nieces and nephews. She worships and serves with Redeemer Anglican Church in Annapolis and believes, in the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

Posted in Upper School

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4/28/22 - By Sarah Soltis, Class of 2020
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