The Senior Chapel Talk I Never Gave

“If I get it all down on paper it’s no longer inside of me,
Threatening the life it belongs to.”

—Anna Nalick

I understand those lyrics. I’ve just written something that has been screaming to be verbalized for several weeks now and as I read back over it, I wish I were a senior again with the opportunity to give a chapel talk at St. Olaf. I had nothing to say to them last spring. I do now. I’m almost tempted to ask if they have room for me in the speaking schedule this year, because I want St. Olaf to hear what I have to say.

But first, my readers (all two of you…), what do YOU think? Should I, as I’m thinking of doing, post this on Facebook?

Coming Out at St. Olaf

I’ve been hiding something about me. I’m afraid people will guess by watching me.

I just don’t feel like I can hide it anymore, and I’m nervous about admitting it because I am afraid people will judge me. Talk about me when I’m not there.

I wonder if anyone else is like me here and I doubt it. I feel alone.

If they find out, will they be sympathetic? Or will they criticize me—say I made bad choices. Will they understand me and believe in me? Or will they shut me out since I’m not like them?

I believe in who I am and I am happy. I want to be myself and stop hiding, but I don’t think they’ll accept me.

As I sat in the chapel at St. Olaf College last Friday morning, I caught the eye of someone who knows my secret. He was looking at me and he grinned. Probably thinking, “She knows she can’t hide it anymore. It’s so obvious.”

Suddenly—though I must say through no fault of his—I felt unwelcome. There is no place for me at St. Olaf. I thought “Is this what it feels like to someone who is thinking about ‘coming out’ as gay or lesbian?” The irony is that if I were “coming out” I would be joining a group of people who are conscientiously made welcome here, cared for, listened to, certainly not “talked about.” But a 24-year-old woman at St. Olaf like me feels no assurance that she will be accepted.

Who cares, though? There is no more hiding it, and I have no more desire to hide. I am excited about who I have become. So today I am “coming out.”

Who am I?

I am a mother. For five months now I have provided everything for this child. I have truly given my life for him. I know what it feels like to have another human soul completely dependent on me for everything.

I feel alone because I am pregnant. I walk around campus occasionally for various reasons and I realize I am a stranger to all the new kids. I stoop to check my husband’s PO box. They must all assume I’m a student. “Have you noticed that student who’s pregnant?” They’ll start asking each other soon. “No one seems to know her at all.”

I hope they’ll just assume I’m a young guest lecturer like my French teacher who gave birth to twins right after our final. Instead I imagine they’ll laugh. “Oops… Sucks to be her. She’s probably a religious nut who made a mistake.”

I think it’s safe to assume that mine will be the first child born to a 2010 St. Olaf alum. I wonder if my colleagues will be happy—impressed, even—when they hear my news. After all, I am doing something with my life. I am a mother. Only time will tell what this child will become, what great things he will do, but for the next two decades it is my privilege and responsibility to meet his every need; to give him a place to grow up happy, confident, secure, wise, so that he can become something great.

Instead I imagine they’ll sigh. “It’s too bad. She had such potential and she’s thrown it all away. Saw it coming. She’s always been a religious nut.”

Did I throw away my potential? Maybe I never shared my greatest aspiration before. Music is a given, not an aspiration. I’ve known since I was 13 that it was my sacred calling—my vocation, as we say here at St. Olaf. So I came to school to pursue it like all my other classmates, good stewards of their vocations. I’ve proved myself as a musician. I know, along with everyone who knows me, that it will always be integral to who I am. I intend to go back to graduate school in fifteen or twenty years if God will open the doors.

Even as I entered St. Olaf four years ago, my highest aspiration was not to music. It was to the noble calling of being a wife and mother. More than anything else, I wanted to serve my husband and my children, to create the home in which they would thrive and aspire, and to pour my life out for their lives and for their aspirations.

But I had no guarantee it would ever be more than a dream, so I faithfully pursued what I had already been given: music. Then to my surprise and delight, God gave me my family and the opportunity to pour myself into what was once only a dream.

I have not, like some of my colleagues whom I most admire and respect, experienced the thrill of success as a young professional music teacher. I have not gone from St. Olaf to the Peace Corps. But I have not thrown my life away and I wonder why our world today doesn’t recognize motherhood as a prestigious humanitarian endeavor along with the Peace Corps? I can tell you with authority and certainty, after only five months of experience, that motherhood is the most noble, self-sacrificing humanitarian work a person can do.

I am honored and privileged and overjoyed to have been given this opportunity, and I intend to throw all the best energy of my life into excelling in it. I may be alone, but I have nothing to hide.

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5 thoughts on “The Senior Chapel Talk I Never Gave

  1. I’m sorry you feel judged and unwelcome. I don’t think Oles are trying to be mean or exclusive, but they just don’t know you, and don’t know that your values (motherhood) are different from theirs. They assume that the only way someone like THEM would be pregnant at your age is through a mistake, so they think that’s what happened to you. But as I say to my students, “They’re wrong, so you don’t need to listen to them.” I worry that if you were to give this as a chapel talk, you might come across as overly defensive. If it were me, I would just ignore anyone who judges you without knowing you… but that’s me. I support you whatever you do. And if you do give a chapel talk, I’ll try to be there. 😀

  2. To be completely honest, I never doubted this was your ultimate goal, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that you admit it. I’m glad that you are pursuing your dreams, even if they are not the same dreams that others think you should pursue. I plan to pursue law school. You’re choosing motherhood. It’s our choices that make us different and interesting, and if I wasn’t interesting, I’d be nothing.

    Personally, although I love being married, I plan on never having kids, and I feel the same way: judged. What sort of awful, evil woman doesn’t want kids? No matter how old I am, I think that if I have children it will be a mistake. It’s a very personal choice. I started feeling unwelcome at both MSU and St. Olaf after I graduated and transferred — I think it’s part of graduating and growing up. You’ve moved on with your life.

    Best of luck with everything! 🙂

  3. I’m going with “no” to the chapel talk because I hear pregnancy hormones talking louder than rational Susan. (sorry)

    As for FB, although your audience may be similar, the context is completely different, so I think it would be fine there.

    (I have the same issue every time I announced *another* pregnancy, so don’t think that when you are in Christian company more than pagan company it will get any better)

    And did I know you were having a boy? How fun they are!

  4. Hi ladies. Thanks for all the feedback. I don’t think I’ll actually pursue giving this as a chapel talk. (Though I do strongly believe it’s rational Susan more than pregnancy hormones: I’ve felt this way in general for most of my time at St. Olaf.)

    Partly I didn’t think I would pursue it to begin with, partly I’m listening to you guys. 🙂 It’s just an interesting idea…

    And unless you ask Mike, we don’t know if we’re having a boy. I was just using the generic masculine, Jeni, hahaha… Mike has been convinced it’s a boy from day 1. The moment of truth will be Friday afternoon if all goes as planned, so I’ll keep you posted. And as for boys being fun, you would know… 😉

    Love you all.

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