By John Lewis (’83)
Seaver College alumnus, spouse, and parent
Member, Board of Regents
How do you value an education as a student, alumnus, or parent?
No shortage of debate about the value of higher education exists presently. Almost daily we see discussions, appropriately perhaps, regarding the value of an undergraduate education that will cost many years’ worth of economic productivity. The growth of tuition costs over the years and the halting employment growth of the past few years have brought the question into sharper contrast. Beyond the generalities of that discussion, I have a particular interest in the value of an education at Pepperdine. As an alumnus married to an alumna, and as parents of two alumni, we have made a rather significant decision regarding the value of a Pepperdine experience, which continues to be reflected in our support of the University.
As I reflect on our association with the University, I find that we grow ever more grateful for the totality of our educational experiences there. Academically we enjoyed the opportunity to grow and to be challenged to bring our best scholarship and to see how it and the rest of the world fit within the frame of our Christian worldview. We found that the University provided that context where the truth was free to be examined and questioned honestly. But, it also taught us to insist on the authentic pursuit of excellence and truth as a basis for our lives and work. In other words, the excellence of our work and the readiness to seek truth were things that went hand in hand—rather than in opposition, as some would have us believe. Not only has that mindset been a great influence on my career, it is now a joy to see that same strength present in the lives of our children as graduates of Seaver College. I have found that the integration provided by my Pepperdine education has allowed me to provide not only technical excellence to my clients, but a greater understanding of the human issues and how our work can empower them in the issues of life that truly matter. It is safe to say that there are no shrinking violets in the Lewis household and that our Pepperdine experience has helped shape those strong personalities in ways that bend us towards service and excellence.
Those experiences include our academic careers of course, but they also encompass something more. Education, particularly at the university level, is never just a function of knowledge delivery. It is also a matter of community that forms a context for values transmission and for fomenting personal growth. The values of purpose, service, and leadership that Pepperdine both states and lives out have met and contributed materially to our family culture. Some of that comes by way of the repeated discussion of those values to be certain. But, it is the ongoing working out of those values within the community that becomes a kind of new normal for many as they walk through their experience of Pepperdine. Some of that takeaway is conscious, but some of it is absorbed in ways that are less overt but nonetheless foundational. This represents a unique contribution that Pepperdine makes to its students and to the community beyond as they provide transformative leadership in the years that follow. Finding ways to actively empower this process keeps us engaged and supportive of the mission of Pepperdine.
And yet, even that would fall short if it were not for the way in which our Pepperdine experience provided the ability to explore and the encouragement to pursue our best selves. To do so, the University relies on the community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to love and encourage each other. Like any community, there will be rough patches, inconsistencies, and variance in participation; but perfection is not the idea here. Rather, in our humanness we would seek to grow each other, accept our failings, and encourage one another to continue the pursuit of a life well lived in its fullest. We have found that to be the case in our own lives via fellow students and faculty and staff that have been ready to open themselves and their homes to us. I would venture to say that it is this aspect of the community that stands in such contrast to other institutions.
Pepperdine sees the student as the center of the educational enterprise and it shows in the way the community functions. While we have been and continue to be part of the Pepperdine community, this mode of being plays out in our involvement in our community beyond. We see how the function of the communities in which we live and move can be the source of solutions, support and joys. When we address issues of housing, education and public good in our community, it is in no small measure because of the community life we experienced at Pepperdine. Having benefited from this community we see part of our ongoing role to provide sustenance in the form of engagement and finances. We long to see others become all that they are called to be and it is a joy to be able to participate in some small way in that process.
So, in reflecting on the value of this educational experience, taken as a whole, it is truly so much more than just a means to a career path—though we hope and expect that it will be empowering in that way, as well. Instead, we see the value in our experience at Pepperdine as a transformative event, carrying its impact in our lives and the lives of others far beyond the years of our Pepperdine education. It is the capacity for a university experience to have this kind of effect that causes us to not only be a part of the community, but to see its support and sustenance as a gift we can give to others–planting trees under whose shade we may never sit. As John Chrysostom, the Bishop of Constantinople, wrote in the fourth century, “If you wish to leave much wealth to your children … do not leave them riches, but virtue and skill.” There are not many experiences in our world today that help impart that combination–but a Pepperdine education is one.