From Typical to Exceptional: One Student’s Journey

I met Sheilah at the Dalton (Georgia) Business Expo several years ago. As an admission representative for Belhaven’s Dalton and Chattanooga campuses, I’ve heard many of the “typical” reasons adults give for returning to school. Sheilah’s reasons seemed typical. She had been debating the idea of going back to school for several years. She was motivated to earn her college degree by the need to become more proficient in her work and the desire to be an example to her daughter. As with many adults contemplating college, she was somewhat unsure of her academic abilities and more unsure of how school was going to fit into her busy life. A few days later, I was pleased to receive Sheilah’s application and then later, to welcome her to the Belhaven family at orientation…a typical beginning.

So, when do typical beginnings lead to exceptional outcomes? The answer to that question is probably multi-faceted. However, it seems to me that the key to exceptional student performance lies somewhere near the intersection of a talented faculty, supportive staff, and a student’s dogged desire to overcome all obstacles standing in the way of success. Here’s Sheilah’s path to “exceptional” (shared with her permission):

She started her journey with a good decision. Sheilah tells me that returning to school was one of the best decisions she ever made. It wasn’t easy. She wrestled to overcome a difficult past and a lack of confidence in her ability to do college-level work. Now, as a graduate, Sheilah feels that returning to school has greatly increase her confidence in academic work, in her job, and in life. If you ask her, she will tell you that finding the road to success isn’t all that complicated. For Sheilah, it began with one good decision.

She recognized that the difficulties of her past could actually define her future calling. Sheilah writes “I spent a lot of my life caught up in my addiction to drugs and alcohol with no relationship with God. Now I can use my experience to help others recover from the disease of addiction.” Rather than allowing her past struggles to keep her down, she saw them as an opportunity to be a blessing to others.

She allowed herself to grow spiritually. According to Sheilah, Belhaven’s focus on Christian worldview has expanded her understanding and belief in God. It’s obvious to me that students who allow God’s word to influence them while they’re with us are those who make an exceptional impact when they graduate. As a Level 2 Certified Addiction Counselor (with a Belhaven degree and Christian worldview!), Sheilah’s work will result in the healing of many struggling individuals, thus bringing about “kingdom” transformation in their families, communities, and organizations.

Sheilah graduated summa cum laude last December, was inducted into the Alpha Sigma Lambda honor society and was selected as one of our campus’s three Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges honorees. These are all exceptional outcomes, but, of course, exceptional doesn’t mean exclusive. Many adult students move from “typical” to “exceptional.” Those students, who like Sheilah, make the “good decision” to start the journey, see the past as a guide to the future, and allow God’s work to speak into their lives, will succeed as students and represent Belhaven well as graduates – like Sheilah.


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