Thanks for Giving Me a Second Chance
Sarah E. Moffet '02
Few schools would have taken a chance on a student like me. Not many schools want a student recently expelled from another Christian college, regardless of the reason. Eastern Mennonite University, for better or worse, gave me a chance to start over, granting my request for admission as a junior in the fall of 2000.
Upon arrival at EMU, it didn’t take me long to grasp that I was in a different kind of place. I had been raised in a Baptist family that boasted a military lineage that had fought in every American war since the Revolutionary War, while EMU was filled with pacifist ideas, beliefs, and people. I had known pacifism was part of the school’s history, of course, but I had failed to appreciate it was a very real part of the school’s ongoing education. A line between me and the majority of the student population was drawn in my first religion class, “Faith and Praxis.”
One fall morning, the teacher asked us to line ourselves up on a continuum, ranging from 1 to 10, with 1 being completely opposed to war and 10 being pro-war. I was an 8. Only one person stood closer to 10 than me. Everyone else was parked on 4 or less.
I was already a bit isolated, having transferred into a small-school setting, but that class heightened my sense of being an outsider. After that, I spent a lot of time hanging out with the international students who didn’t care about my militaristic tendencies nearly as much as whether I could dance. (Fortunately, they accepted me despite the fact I could not.)
Yet little by little I absorbed some of the perspectives of the majority around me. I consumed the assigned readings regarding the horrors of war experienced by civilians, learned of the efforts at diplomacy by the pacifists, and observed the cultural and religious integration undertaken by students and teachers alike to bring broken international and local communities back together.
I came to see that this university was challenging its students to make their faith an impetus for action. EMU taught its students, in the words of Elie Wiesel, that “there may be a time when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
I learned to respect those who were pacifists as an expression of their faith and to recognize those who held pacifism as a political ideology. Making this distinction enabled me to appreciate and enact certain components of pacifism into my own life. It also pushed me to better articulate my own diverse views in social and classroom sections.
EMU did more than just give me an opportunity to reexamine and change myself. It also helped me improve my external perspectives.
I spent a semester in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, meeting with members of the Irish Republican Army and Ulster Volunteer Forces while touring, and I participated in the George Marshall Scholars program. Meanwhile I obtained the academic foundation to obtain admission into law school. At EMU I learned how to analyze positions, accepting some facets and discarding others, which has served me well in my personal life and legal and writing careers.
Six years out of EMU, my life is a healthy mixture of who I was and what I have become. In the words of Jack Kerouac, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round heads in the square holes. The ones who see things differently . . . Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
These days, I’m a writer moonlighting as a lawyer for 2,000 billable hours a year, opportunities I may have missed if EMU had not accepted me after my expulsion. Now working on my second book, A Tale of Three Cities - which will include my collegiate experiences while at EMU - I have come to understand that my education at EMU was as focused on making the student self-aware as it was globally focused. EMU understood that you have to know yourself before you can know, let alone save, the world.
Looking back, EMU remains to me a school with flaws and faults, much like its students and teachers. It is, however, a school able to uniquely bring out the best in those looking for it in themselves. It combined who I was - a flawed person of potential - with what it is - a place to learn. A place to become better. A place to change ourselves, and maybe, leave to change the world around us. A place that gave me… a chance.
And for that, I will always be grateful.
Sarah E. Moffett completed her law degree in 2005 at the George Mason University School of Law. Her first book, Growing Up Moffett, was published in April, 2007. She is a civil litigator at the Alexandria, Va., office of LeClair Ryan. Her website is www.sarahmoffett.com.