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Friday, Jan. 3, 2014

Today, snow drapes from the bare cover of oak tree branches that line the sidewalk behind Miller Hall. Christmas decorations still adorn the frosted brick buildings as I make my way to the office. Yet again, I am reminded of the settling fact that this will be my last winter break as a student worker at Waynesburg University.

Each year it seems this view becomes more beautiful than before, almost whimsical, even. The once rolling green hills that move through campus are now smooth snow caps chasing the sun as it rises above grey clouds. Only frenzied squirrel trails can be found within the white, powdery mix, but in a couple of weeks they will be joined by the dips and divots made by routine ambles to class and the occasional snowball fight.

I don’t feel lonely by the bareness of campus as I continue walking toward Miller Hall, though one might assume you would this time of year. Students will return and the buildings will once again wake to the sound of occupied classrooms and fellowship with friends. In the meantime, campus comes to life on its own in the quiet, still moments of the day, the moments many of us miss during the bustle of our daily routines.

As I take in the view, I realize I will greatly miss this place and the beautiful way God shares His creations through it, for Waynesburg is a sight during every season, not just this one.

Every fall, as the warm summer heat begins to fade, I find myself in this same area, on a bench below the oak trees, listening to the cries of squirrels and the pops of dropping acorns on the surrounding cement. The trees are heavy with vibrant red, orange and yellow tones, and the sidewalks are full with students, yet, as I sit there, I almost feel as though I am sitting in my own private corner of paradise, totally at peace.

In the spring, when the rest of the natural world awakes once more, walking to and from class often doubles as a runway show featuring a wide variety of colorful rain boots and umbrellas. I hear the complaints of students whose hair has begun to frizz and whose coats have soaked through, though I know we are all secretly relishing in the sweet, familiar smell of rain hitting the pavement.

Summer continues this trend with even more beauty. To me, summer is when campus truly comes into its own. In the morning, a golden haze lifts from the grass and the birds and squirrels, alike, call out across the lawn, taking shelter in the shade of the historic buildings. By mid-afternoon, as I push through the doors of Miller and step out into the open air, the sun warms my skin, bringing back the nostalgia of fun with friends and summer loves—the things we once had forgotten.

Even at night, the air just warm enough to enjoy, after admiring the deep pinks and purples of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever witnessed, I curl up beneath the soft light of a nearby lamp post, book in hand, listening to the soothing hum of insects, the slight crack of a moth hitting glass.

Here, I feel safe. Here, I am at home.

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Dear WU,

I recently registered for my last semester with you, and I can’t help but feel upset about this end to an important ritual of my college career. Somehow, I can’t picture myself anywhere but where I am now.

As you know, when I began looking at schools as a high school senior, you were on the list with two other Christian universities. I toured those other two schools, liking much of what I saw and even applied to them, thinking of how my future would be if I were to attend one of them.

I toured you last and there was an immediate change. Although I had my heart set on an equestrian school, I didn’t get the same feeling with those other schools because you were the one that made me feel as though I belonged.

There has been a lot of push and pull in our relationship throughout the years: classes I didn’t want to take, but ended up liking; class assignments that nearly pushed me over the edge, but I overcame; and exams that kept me up nights worrying over, but the end result always turned out better than I imagined.

I am now able to see that you only challenged me because you knew I could do it, no matter how many times I said I couldn’t, and I want to apologize for being so stubborn.

I have not always liked you, especially on the days where I received nothing but papers scribbled over in red ink—slashes and lines through my creative thoughts like a connect-the-dot activity sheet. I cried over those days more times than I feel comfortable confessing to you. What I couldn’t see at the time, however, was how much all of those scribbles would allow me to grow into a much better writer.

So much has happened over these past four years, some of which has been life-altering. It’s difficult to think of where my life would be if I would not have chosen you. You helped to peel back the layers of my insecurities as a person, writer and Christian, giving me chances to grow beyond the expectations I had originally placed for myself. My whole self-concept has changed, thanks to you.

Do you remember when I went for my interview with the Admissions Department as a freshman for a Student Ambassador position? I walked into that interview like a typical freshman: naïve and irrational. I remember adamantly saying the words “I will do anything you need, but I will never give a tour” to the admissions counselor, fully knowing that was in the job description. She and you had a good laugh, I’m sure.

The first time I gave a tour, I was so nervous I couldn’t remember anything I had rehearsed, but I made it through. To my surprise, families even began to tell me they couldn’t believe I had ever been shy. I give you the credit for those statements. Had it not been for you, I would have quit and crawled back into my comfortable shell of invisibility.

Through you, I went from being an insecure introvert to a confident, somewhat more sociable young woman who is no longer afraid of people looking at her because she knows she is important.

They say coming to college is part of a transitional phase of life which helps set the foundations for our future goals and careers, but to me it has been so much more than that. Finding my way to you has been a type of reawakening in my life.

During these past four years, I’ve repeatedly lost and regained confidence in my abilities; I’ve had my heart broken and restored again (like so many my age); I’ve lost high school friendships and gained stronger, less selfish ones; I’ve lost sight of my faith only to find a stronger, more cognizant version; and most importantly, I’ve learned who I am as a person and who I want to become as I continue to grow.

My final registration signifies this chapter in my life is about to end and as I sit here writing this letter to you, I hate to think this journey is almost over. Like a friend, you have become close to my heart and I know, even once I’m gone, that is where you will remain.

Thank you for all you have done for me, both good and bad, for they have made me who I am today.

Sincerely,
Kayla Longstreth

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I have always believed that service is an important part of society, but before my time at Waynesburg University, I had never been the type to give it. Not because I ever thought I was too good to serve, but more because I had never felt good enough to serve. Joining the Waynesburg community meant having to serve at some point during my college career, and I was anxious of how I could make a difference.

Little did I know, enrolling in service learning would change my life forever.

Having always loved animals, I chose to conduct my service work at the Humane Society of Greene County. Walking in on my first day, I had no idea what to expect.

When the director began discussing what I could do to help, I began praying they would involve no animal interaction whatsoever. In fact, on my first two days I kept busy scrubbing the inside and outside of every door in the building, setting packages of food on the shelves and working the front desk, answering phones and interacting with customers. I wanted to help the cause, but at a distance. Still, I felt my heart yearning for more.

That's when I was approached with a new request.

The director began talking with me about some of my passions and when I mentioned photography and writing, her face lit up. With a new website and an overload of incoming animals, I was asked if I could help. I could see where the conversation was going, but I wasn't sure I could do what she wanted me to.

Taking photographs of and writing articles about these animals meant getting up close and personal with every single one of them. It broke my heart to think I would have to see their suffering firsthand and tell them they wouldn't find what they were looking for from me; I couldn't give them the love and stability they were desperately searching to find.

But seeing the hope the director had, I accepted her proposition.

As I began working, I realized I had a lot to offer. I was nervous about using my gifts to serve, but God gave me the opportunity to shine and what began as a course requirement quickly developed into a passion for the greater good—helping animals find their “forever homes.”

In the words of Frederick Buechner, "The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

To me, volunteering at the Human Society has not been fulfilling community service hours. It is a commitment fueled by a passion to make a difference in the lives of the animals, who can't do it for themselves. I know I made the right decision when I walked through those doors on the first day.

I know I was led there to make a difference the best way I can—through the gifts God has provided me. I thank Him, and the staff at the shelter, for encouraging me and allowing me to find my passion for serving.

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When I matriculated into Waynesburg University as a freshman, I had no idea what to expect. It was an uncomfortably hot day in August and the sidewalks were crowded with families and new students—hundreds of faces I didn't know. I was terrified. Everything was about to change. I was entering the unknown with no one to catch me if I fell.

 

What had I gotten myself in to?

 

In high school, I was the girl who never quite knew where she belonged. I'll admit, it was my own fault, really. I had kept myself guarded, unwilling to take a chance at becoming something more than who I had limited myself to be. I was afraid of rejection. In my mind, keeping at a distance meant not getting hurt, but it also meant not being able to grow.

 

Attending college would force me to step out of my comfort zone and I didn't know if I was quite ready for that, but God knew what I needed and encouraged me to take the plunge.

 

“In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Psalm 56: 4 (NIV)

 

To my surprise, as my first weeks unfolded, I began finding comfort in my surroundings and the positive energy exuded around me. The people were welcoming. They smiled and held the door open for me, they asked me how I was doing, where I was from and what my future plans were, but most importantly, to me, they were open about their faith.

 

This is where I belonged.

 

When I attended Chapel for the first time, I was amazed to see a group of college students openly worshipping and praising God. The preconceived notions I had been fed through television shows and movies had given me an undesirable vision of what college was going to be like, but I was pleased to find things were different at Waynesburg. I could feel God's presence in the voices of those singing and in the words outwardly spoken.

 

When I found Waynesburg, my walk of faith began. Ready or not, God was there, telling me this was where I needed to be. Undoubtedly, I have a ways to go before I find my life's mission, but the seeds have been planted. God is at work in my life now more than ever, and I have Waynesburg to thank for igniting the flame.

 

I have no fear looking forward.

 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29: 11 (NIV)


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When I first stepped out of the car and onto the pavement, Waynesburg University looked like many of the small, private schools I had been touring for months. Historic brick buildings full of character, vibrant foliage and countless visiting squirrels scurrying across the sidewalks. But the one thing Waynesburg didn't have was the one thing I thought I wanted.

 

Little did I know, things were quickly about to change.

 

In my mind, I had always seen myself majoring in Equine studies, training world class horses and riders for the Olympics or maybe even becoming the next big “horse whisperer.” Nothing had intrigued me more in my life than the mind and power of a horse, and after years of riding lessons and recent horse ownership, I was more and more ready to take the plunge towards attaining what I thought was my dream.

 

I had found a couple of equine schools, great ones, actually. So what was the problem? Why was I stalling?

 

It was my senior year of high school, and I was tired and discouraged. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with my life and the monotonous campus touring hadn't come close to pointing me in the right direction for my future.

 

That was before I visited Waynesburg.

 

As I toured the campus, I found myself being drawn in. The smell of fresh cut grass and hamburgers on the grill, the smiles shared by students as we passed by and the quiet, peaceful sounds of birds chirping overhead, all reminded me of what home is supposed to feel like—an intimate community.

 

This was a place I could see myself in.

 

Beginning to pull away from the schools I had found before, I wondered if I was making the right choice. As many of us do, I was second guessing myself when my heart was trying to tell me it was alright to let go.

 

I needed an awakening.

 

Up until my Waynesburg visit, I had never pictured myself as a writer. Sure, in high school I had been told that I had a talent for it, but writing never drove me forward. My spare time wasn't spent bent over a keyboard profusely typing every thought that came to mind. Wasn't that what writers were supposed to do? I didn't fit the mold.

 

When I met with English faculty, my whole perspective changed. As they spoke about their own passions for writing, something clicked. The wheels began turning.

 

They asked me about my interests and, when I thought it was impossible, explained the ways in which I could incorporate my other passions into writing and how I could make a difference through my words. But more than that, they opened a door I had not been able to see before. As much as I hadn't wanted to admit it at the time, I knew I had found what I was meant to do.

 

I guess the moral of the story is, sometimes the things we are called to do are not necessarily the things we had originally had in mind. Waynesburg showed me that, and through the years, they have continued to foster a passion I had never known existed.

 

Looking back on that journey, I can't imagine the outcome any other way.


 

 


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