Jon Thornton ’16 couldn’t have guessed when he was first applying to Wheaton that working in the on-campus café—Sam’s—would become such a formative part of his undergrad experience. “I’ve made super strong relationships at Sam’s that have carried past when people have graduated from Wheaton . . . It’s a really good hub, not only for people who come to Sam’s, but for the employees to be able to get to know each other and hang out.”
Thornton describes Sam’s as one of the central meeting points on campus, and says he loves the chance to interact with “everyone on campus who doesn’t grab Starbucks on their way to work.” Located in the Beamer Student Center, which is sometimes thought of as the “living room” of campus, Sam’s workers like Thornton enjoy serving everyone from current students and professors to the visitors attracted by Alumni Weekend, Wheaton Connection visits, or community events like concerts or lectures.
Thornton’s love for people doesn’t just influence his preferred working environment—it also spills over into his chosen double major. Though he came into Wheaton as a freshman with the intent to study business and economics, Thornton discovered a passion and talent for new subjects through some of his general education courses. A communication and anthropology double major, Thornton loves to study “people groups and communication within people groups,” which he hopes will prepare him for work in advertising and marketing after graduation.
Thornton, who intends to pursue further studies in business at the graduate level, believes that the faith-based teaching he has received at Wheaton is part of what makes his education worthwhile. “I’ve interacted with a lot of really big ideas, and to be able to interact with those ideas in a Christian setting has been amazing,” he says.
Jon Thornton ’16 is a communication and anthropology double major. Video produced by Wheaton College Media Producer Kevin Schmalandt.
The lights are dim, the theater is full, and there’s a buzz of anticipation in the air. We’re standing in a prayer circle backstage on opening night of Wheaton College Arena Theater’s fall 2014 production, Till We Have Faces, and I’m struck by the amount of time that has gone into this show before it even had an audience.
It’s taken hundreds of hours. Memorizing lines, focusing lights, perfecting sound cues, blocking fight scenes, splattering paint, gold-leafing crowns, selling tickets, constructing risers, sewing hems, sawing plywood, applying makeup, crawling around on catwalks, sweeping up dirt, smearing fake blood, pulling curtains.
And it’s taken more than just the volunteer time put in by the crews and actors. Each Arena Theater production is made possible not just by hours in the scene shop or hunched over a sewing machine, but by a rich tapestry of relationship that our ensemble lives and breathes.
We represent every major from physics and ancient languages to studio art and communication, and we come from geographic locations just as diverse. Many of us would never have met one another in the rest of our Wheaton lives, but here in Arena Theater, we come together to form an unlikely but tight-knit tribe.
We play acting games together. We eat together. We take classes together. We fight. We study the Bible. We dance. We give each other gifts. We celebrate traditions instituted by people we’ve never met. We cry. We goof off. Our little theater family has built a life together in this building that provides the soil from which all of our plays spring.
Though the value of our shared way of life is obvious to me, I have to remind myself that the thing that brought me into this community in the first place was a passion for the theater. And in some ways this colossal game of adult dress-up and storytelling seems an exercise in excess. Those who call Arena Theater their home sacrifice massive amounts of our mental, emotional and temporal resources in each play, only to bury it all in one night of deconstruction after the last show. Pieces of the broken-down set will languish in the dumpster out back, costumes will retreat to quiet corners of the costume closet, lights will be reset and the stage manager’s binder closed for good. Why do we exert so much effort for something as ephemeral as a play?
In a culture that prizes efficiency and demands quantifiable results, the work we do in Arena Theater may seem superfluous. And yet I’m reminded of the God who made the brilliant iridescence of a peacock feather when a flat gray one would’ve sufficed; the God who puts on an over-the-top lightshow twice a day to transition between day and night when the simple flip of a switch would do. If we’re to take our cues from the Creator God, it would seem that this life is meant to be much more than utilitarian.
In Arena Theater, this is a truth we’re trying to work out daily.
Whitney Bauck '15 is a senior studying studio art with an emphasis in photography. Photo credits from top: A scene from Arena Theater's production of Till We Have Faces by Whitney Bauck '15; Arena Theater friends celebrating a birthday together with Martinelli's sparkling cider and snacks (Credit: Amy Kuhlman '15); one last scene from Till We Have Faces.
Well, that went fast. It’s on all of our minds as we Wheaton College seniors prepare to complete our undergraduate degrees this spring. I can still remember my first day moving into Traber dorm four years ago: I was trying to squeeze all of my belongings onto one half of the room when my roommate suddenly appeared with 11 members of his family, including two toddlers and a crying infant. It’s no wonder this day is emblazoned in my memory.
After a quiet and strictly academic freshman year (some of my floormates referred to me as “the Hermit”), I felt challenged by God to step out of my comfort zone to deliberately become more involved in extracurricular activities. This led to my participation in Honduras Project (HP), an annual student-led mission trip to install a gravity-fed potable water system in a rural village in Honduras.
After my first trip to Honduras in 2012, I was privileged to serve on cabinet as HP’s communications coordinator in 2013. Both of my years with HP were unforgettable. I learned about leadership and service while making lasting relationships with both my teammates and the villagers I worked alongside while laying piping for the system.
During my sophomore year, I also applied for Wheaton in the Holy Lands (WIHL). This study abroad opportunity with bible and theology faculty members involves traveling during the summer to lands of the Bible. We spent time in Israel, Greece, Turkey, and Italy, journeying to sites where Scripture was brought to life. There are no sensations quite like splashing into the ‘sea’ where Jesus once walked or sweating in the baking sun in Jericho. It made the stories of the Bible come alive in my heart and mind as they took on tangible, beautiful new meaning. On the final morning in Jerusalem, I watched the sun rise from the Mount of Olives and wondered if Jesus had ever taken the time to soak up this view.
Now, during my last semester on campus, I’m working as an editorial intern at Wheaton magazine. In addition to carrying out traditional copyediting tasks and attending editorial planning meetings, I’ve also been able to publish the magazine’s print material online. My professional skill set has grown—I can now operate within a content management system (I didn’t even know what that was before I started here), maneuver through software like Photoshop, and conduct official interviews.
I’m an introvert—but that doesn’t mean I can let opportunities pass me by due to my uncertainty. Stepping out from my studies to engage other facets of experiential learning has transformed my life, and I’m so thankful for God making each risk worthwhile. As I look to the future that lay before me, I trust that God will continue to provide for this Hermit, wherever He leads me.
Beau Westlund ’14 is Wheaton magazine’s editorial intern. A senior from Bettendorf, Iowa, Beau is graduating with a degree in English with a concentration in writing, and hopes to work in the HR/PR/media field.
For the first time in my life, I had to face winter. And not just any winter, but a record Chicago winter. Prior to coming to Wheaton, I had never seen or touched snow before. The high elevation in my home country of Rwanda always provided cool weather throughout the whole year, with 82F average high and 58F average low. So my Kinyarwanda language did not even have the vocabulary word for snow. The cold winter was one of many new and exciting things I was able to experience during my first year at Wheaton College Graduate School.
I just completed my first year in the M.A. in Systematic Theology program. I had many challenges at the beginning of my program, such as adjusting to the rigorous pace of graduate studies and speaking and writing in English, my fourth language. But Wheaton College offered me the best studying environment that I could ever imagine. I lived with four roommates who were also international students, and each of us was from a different continent; what a great blessing! Though we all came from different cultures, we had a common culture of being Christian brothers.
I also had to leave my wife Hope and our three children: Moses (11), Esther (8), and Sandra (4) in Rwanda when I started my Theology program. Though I was apart from my family, Wheaton College became my family away from family. The Christian interaction between students, professors, and staff provided an excellent learning environment. Professors at Wheaton are so amazing! I always wondered how these professors are so knowledgeable, yet so very humble. They are not only academic professors, but also spiritual mentors.
Back at home, I am a church planting pastor and a theology teacher, where I serve as the General Secretary of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Rwanda; an association of indigenous churches that a team of 12 pastors and I founded in 2007. Since then, we have planted 33 more churches to bring our total number of churches to 45. This summer, I look forward to being home in Rwanda with my family and to return to my ministry. The first year is already gone and it seems that the time was so quick. I look forward to finishing my second year with great courage.
When I came to Wheaton, I expected it to be another four years of my high school experience. Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed high school, but I wanted college to be a new chapter of my life, not the rereading of an old one. During my senior year, I tried to stay away from any Christian college. I was headed straight for the most academically rigorous school out there, and I didn’t think a Christian school could give me the level of education I wanted.
At least, not until I came to Wheaton. When I visited, I became completely convinced that I could get a great Christian education. However, it wasn’t until I actually began to live here that I realized the value of the Wheaton community. In students, professors, everyone, the love of Christ shines brightly. If someone had told me that I would find a second family—most of which were within five years of my age—during the first year I came to Wheaton, I would have thought they were joking, but God provided.
As I began to grow in this community, I increasingly found quirky and idiosyncratic things about this place. I started to post and number the funniest, weirdest, and most impactful ones on Facebook as my very own Wheatonisms. Here are a few examples:
Wheatonism #4: “integration of faith and learning”
If you ever come to Wheaton, you’ll hear this over and over again, and thankfully, the professors mean it. I haven’t had a class yet in which the professor hasn’t connected the discipline with the Bible.
Wheatonism #10: People dress as Bible characters for Halloween
Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Not to mention Jesus…
Wheatonism #11: Chicken Finger Day in SAGA (Anderson Commons)
Chicken fingers come around once or twice a semester in the dining room, and trust me, you won’t understand until it happens. At home, I don’t even like chicken fingers. But here, it’s not just food; it’s part of the culture.
Wheatonism #19: Floating
Okay, so first, you craft a root beer float using two straws, then you find a couple that looks like they might be on a first date. (Bonus points if at least one of them is a close friend!) You walk up to the table sneakily, and put the float between them. Let the awkwardness begin!
Wheatonism #24: Professors Care
One of your profs begins to tear up as he says, "If anything I have taught you has been of Christ, hold on to it. If anything I have taught has not been of Christ, I pray that God would cast it away from you. At the end of the day, I hope you saw Christ, not me, in this class." Needless to say, there was a rush of applause at the end of that day, for we did see Christ in that room, every day we were in it. However, it was not merely the level of respect for God's word and honest search for its understanding which won our hearts and ears, but also the care for the lives of each and every one of his 100+ students, shown partly by the fact that he knew ALL of our names.
So all in all, my freshman year a Wheaton has been great so far! I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings. But a piece of advice to all of you prospective students out there: If you want to find a place where people search for God wholeheartedly, love each other in community, and seek for knowledge deeply, come to Wheaton. That’s who we are.