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Catawba College and the Bigger Picture: Helping Students Figure Out What Is Important In Life

May 23, 2019

Category: Faculty, Students

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you.

They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Frederick Buechner, Poet, Presbyterian Theologian, Writer

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
— Mary Oliver, Poet


co-clappstudents.pngWhen Catawba College says that it educates “the whole student,” it’s means much more than a couple of words flashing on your screen or printed on a piece of paper.

Catawba College, particularly the Lilly Center for Vocation and Values, not only wants its students to learn and grow during their years at Catawba, but also to figure out what is important to them in life, as they close the books and head out to face the world.

Enter Dr. Ken Clapp, senior vice-president of the college, college chaplain, and assistant professor of religion. He is also director of the Lilly Center. During the school year, Clapp conducts vocational mini-retreats focusing on what is important to a student. The mini retreats grew out of collaboration with Dr. Kurt Corriher, retired professor at Catawba, who has served as facilitator for several of the events. Clapp calls them Life Journey Retreats, “a deep dive into vocation and values.”   

In June and August, the Lilly Center also holds two-day retreats at Black Lake Retreat Center in Asheboro for its freshman class. Students reflect on what they feel that their vocational calling may be, as well as an receiving an introduction to college life.

At Clapp’s recent mini retreat, as the sun dipped and the campus grew quiet, he invited students to think about their “one life.” He began this way: “You only have one life – so what exactly do you plan to do with what the poet Mary Oliver refers to as ‘Your one wild and precious life.’ ”

From its inception at Catawba 15 years ago, the Lilly Center has focused on discovering the place to which God calls you. It is the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet, he tells the gathered students, quoting from Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian theologian, poet, and novelist.

co-clapp19.pngThe goal, Clapp says, is to find that place of gladness, joy and meaning in your life. “It not about: How much money can I make.” He cites studies that show no correlation between money and happiness. The average household of four needs between $60,000 and $70,000 per year, he says. “After that, having more money doesn’t do that much to contributing to happiness.” It’s about being true to yourself.

But, he adds, happiness does lead to success. “We are successful because we are happy,” he says.

The word “vocation” in Latin means “to be called out … called to do something with our lives,” he says.

He talks about people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who tell him: “I really wish that I had chosen differently.”

“And I ask, ‘Why didn’t you?’ They talk about parents, a good friend, or someone important to them who had expectations for them. They allowed others’ expectations to cause them to do something that they weren’t passionate about. I ask them if the person no longer has that influence, would that change what you would do vocationally?”

He suggests that students “stop networking and start ‘relationshipping.’ Take networking a step further and develop relationships with people who care about you … who want you to travel on the good road for you. A deeper life comes out of conversations,” he says.

The key is:

  • Knowing who you are.
  • Understanding your values.
  • Knowing the gifts that God has given you.

He asks students to think about the three things that they feel they must accomplish in the next three months. The group bends over their notebooks. Then he asks for a second list: “Suppose the doctor has told you that you have six months to live. What would be on that second list of the three most important things in your life?

“If the lists are not the same,” he says, “think about what the second list suggests about what you consider important. That gives you a window of where you see your values. This is a clue to what you want to do vocationally.”

He moves on into his deep dive into life. “What accomplishment in the past six months are you most proud?” he asks them. “When was the last time that you did something just for somebody else and how did that make you feel?”

Thirdly, he has them think about what they would you if they did not have to answer to money constraints. “Throw off your inhibitions,” he says. “What would you do?”

He encourages them “to look for their passions. Find the vocation that allows you to express your passion and you will find joy and meaning in life.”

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