Not like other graduate schools

Posted Jul 10, 2013 | The Discipleship Project


By Elizabeth Diop

Some friends play at friendship but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin. Proverbs 18:24

Elizabeth and son AzizMy husband, Alioune, and I found out we were expecting our second child shortly after I accepted Christian Theological Seminary’s offer of admission. While this was a delightful development, our son’s impending arrival filled me with a sense of joy and terror. It is a testament to my family and home-friends’ uncompromising support and love that not one of them said, “Are you sure this is the right time to move to another state and begin graduate school?”

In early August, our family settled in to Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) student housing. In October, Alioune flew to West Africa for an extended visit to see family, while I remained here at CTS with our older son, Abraham. I knew it wouldn’t be easy taking five classes and caring our six-year-old solo, but I figured we would make it work.

My car broke down on Halloween. I wasn’t able to get it fixed—it was an old car and the repairs just weren’t worth it. Since Abraham’s school didn’t have any buses and my schedule negated the possibility of using public transportation, I wasn’t sure what to do. With characteristic selflessness and sweet generosity, my friend Katie allowed me to use her car freely until I was able to get a new one. Without that help, I don’t know that I would have been able to make it through my first semester here at CTS.

I delivered my son a few months later, on Thursday, January 24, 2013, to the joy of Alioune and my mother, who waited in the hospital, and Abraham, who stayed with friends at the CTS apartments. On our first evening home together, our CTS neighbor/classmate, Ashley, brought us supper. Others, too, provided us with meals.

I had special permission from my professors to bring Aziz, our newborn, to class those first few weeks. It was their flexibility that enabled me to continue my studies. I have to make it clear—I don’t think I recommend doing this; it is incredibly difficult to focus simultaneously on classwork and parenting. One particularly difficult morning stands out. I was attending Dr. Boesak’s class, listening to an incredible lecture about reconciliation, and Aziz began to cry. I left class, frustrated and overwhelmed, and began walking to a part of the building in which I hoped we wouldn’t be heard. My friend Kelly saw us in the hallway and said, “Why don’t you let me take him, and you can go to class?” I handed her my sweet baby and was able to listen to the lecture without worrying about the demands of parenting.

In the cafeteria, friends often offered to hold Aziz so I could eat. Others assisted me by carrying his diaper bag and my books. At one point, my friend Cheryl saw someone helping me gather our things, and smiling, she said, “You know this isn’t like a normal graduate school, don’t you?” I understood what she meant. Here at CTS, instead of trying to beat each other down, students try to lift each other up. Graduate school is more difficult with newborn brain, and without my friends to share their notes and help proofread my papers (in addition to their practical assistance), I’m not sure how I would have made it.

Monica A. Coleman’s book Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology was my favorite of the books we studied in Introduction to Theology. In this book, Coleman explains that theological communities are those communities that “adopt and adapt God’s calling and creatively transform the world in which they live.” Coleman continues, “Salvation is about the activity of communities. These communities are creatively transforming the world through the acts of teaching and healing” (p. 100). CTS strives to live out the truth of Coleman’s words.

This first year of seminary was crazy, sometimes painful, often joyful, and more challenging than I ever would have imagined. It was only with the love and support of my husband, my mother, and my friends here at CTS—people Monica A. Coleman would call “saviors”—that I was able to successfully complete my first year of seminary. I am so thankful that CTS “isn’t like other graduate schools.” It’s home.

Elizabeth Diop just completed her first year as an M.Div. student at Christian Theological Seminary and is a member of the first cohort of The Discipleship Project.

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