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The Privilege of Choice

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Editor’s note: Missioner Maggie Van Roekel reflects on the privilege of being able to receive education and choose a job, sharing how teaching and the attitude of her students have challenged her own understanding.

As I am finishing my first semester at the UAC, several people have asked me what I feel has been the most challenging thing about teaching. While there have been several, one of the biggest challenges has come from a place I never would have expected: my own way of thinking. To explain, I would like to share a little bit about a student of mine.

From the beginning, I noticed how hard this student worked in my class. He participates during most class meetings, asks good questions, and is more than willing to put it all out there to try and work on English outside of class. While his grades aren’t the highest, and he tends to need a little extra time to perfect his homework, it most certainly isn’t for lack of ambition or hard work.

In a recent conversation with this student, I learned that he is the first in his family to go to college. He and his siblings are also the first generation in his family to have finished high school. He sees studying higher education as a true honor that is not within reach for many of his relatives and friends. Although he’s never had a familial example of things such as study practices or student life, here he is, working his hardest and building those skills as he goes along.

Several of the students in my classes have enthusiastically explained to me why they chose to study at the UAC. They have so much passion for their chosen majors which will hopefully lead them into a job that will be truly life-giving for them as individuals. And that’s really what it boils down to: having the choice.

My student really, truly understands what an opportunity it is to be able to choose what he wants to do as a career. That is an understanding that I have never really had, being the daughter of two college graduates. Receiving education and being able to choose  a career that is life-giving to me has always been an assumption rather than an opportunity, beginning as early as the first time I was asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For me, it was a gift, easily opened. For several of my students, studying at a university was something for which they and their families have had to sacrifice.

While there have certainly been several challenges in my time teaching, I think one of the biggest has been challenging my own thinking, my own life-experiences, and the negligence of understanding my own privileges.

By accepting God’s call to go on mission, I also accepted the call to challenge my own understanding. Through the students at the UAC, I have been challenged to delve into what it means to be able to choose a career path that is life-giving and the true opportunity that comes with that privilege.

Reflection Question: Spend some time today reflecting on the privileges, challenges, and lessons to be learned from your own life today. How can you respond with gratitude and a new heart?

Through listening the stories of our marginalized brothers and sisters, Maggie seeks to gain new perspectives on joy and hope across different backgrounds. Her passion for disability social justice grew out of numerous experiences working with individuals with disabilities, including three summers at an Easter Seals camp. Maggie grew up in Iowa and studied health science at the University of Iowa.