I don’t trust my memory alone to remember things for me. I feel much more secure having things down on paper. Every New Year, I take out my journal and make a page titled “The Year in Review.” I write down important events, things I learned, and my resolutions for next year.
I think there’s something valuable about marking the passing of time like that. If you don’t record it, it tends to blur away in your mind. You have trouble remembering your triumphs–or your low points. I recommend you try it.
Though it’s not the end of the calendar year, it is the end of the academic year, and so I am offering you my own (Academic) Year in Review.
Admittedly, I probably wouldn’t do this at the end of every academic year on my own (it is just after the exhaustion of finals, after all), but I am lucky enough to have gotten a 4-year renewable scholarship from a foundation back home in South Carolina. To renew the scholarship, every year I have to write a letter detailing my academic year.
It has actually been incredibly helpful, because now I can look back on those old letters and remember how I felt at the end of those other academic years–what I cared about, what I was proud of.
So I thought I’d share this year’s letter with you, so that you could see the past year from my point of view:
Dear [Scholarship Director]:
For the past three years, I have received the [Scholarship] from [Scholarship Foundation]. This scholarship has allowed me to attend and to continue my studies at Boston University. I am writing now to share my experiences of this year at Boston University and to request a continuation of funding for next year.
As I wrote in my letter last year, I became involved with the Boston University Interfaith Council at the beginning of my sophomore year. Now, in my junior year, my passion for interfaith work has grown even stronger. I strongly believe that increasing people’s religious literacy and helping them to engage with people of other religious traditions (or no religious tradition) are important to foster a pluralistic, peaceful world that can celebrate and embrace difference and diversity.
The Interfaith Council, of which I am the president, put on many exciting events this year. We hosted a “Religion Mythbusters” panel series, aimed at breaking down stereotypes about various religions, including Islam, Sikhism, and Mormonism. In the spring, we held the First Annual BU Interfaith Fair, an educational celebration of the rich diversity of religions on campus. We had musical performances, a buffet with important foods from various faiths, and booths with student representatives from different groups—including Muslims, Sikhs, Baha’is, Buddhists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Hindus, Secular Humanists, and more.
On a larger scale, this fall I founded the Boston Interfaith Campus Coalition (BICC). Last spring, I had worked with various local colleges to put on an interfaith food drive event called HUNGERally, which raised awareness about hunger in Boston. Seeing how powerful cooperation between colleges was, I decided to formally create an alliance, so that we could all work together on more interfaith events in the future. And so BICC was born; it consists of over fifteen colleges, including Boston University, Harvard, MIT, Boston College, Tufts, Brandeis, and more.
I organized two service major events this year through BICC. In the fall, we had a Thanksgiving meal-packing event, which raised over $10,000. At $0.25 a meal, we were able to pack 40,000 meals for hungry children in Boston. Students from BICC, as well as locals from the community, helped fundraise and pack these meals together while engaging in interfaith dialogue. In the spring, we had Cards & Scarves, where we made cards and scarves for the homeless of Boston and participated in interfaith conversations about the meaning of service in our various religions. Excitingly, we are already in the process of planning what our next big service event will be this coming fall.
Apart from my extra-curricular interfaith work, my interest in religion is also fulfilled in my academic studies. As a religion major, I have taken many interesting classes this year, including “Women, Gender, and Islam” and “Atheism and Agnosticism in US History.” In the spring semester, I also began work on my senior year thesis, applying for approval from the Institutional Review Board and creating my prospectus. Entitled “Millennial Christianity: The Wild Goose Festival and the Response of the Religious Right,” my thesis will be an ethnographic study of a contemporary evangelical Christian festival and its reception by conservative Christians; I intend to study whether the influence of the Religious Right on American society is waning or merely changing form. I will be doing my research for the thesis in August at the Wild Goose Festival, which happens in North Carolina.
My advisor for my thesis has been an incredibly helpful guide and a wonderful educator. In fact, I have found many incredible mentors at Boston University. My three years of college with all these advisors have helped me to discern what I want for my future. I aim to do humanitarian work in religiously diverse communities, especially in ones where religion is a source of tension and friction and where interfaith-based humanitarian work can begin to heal these conflicts. There are many humanitarian issues in which I am interested, including gender inequality, homelessness, and hunger, but all of them ultimately center around the issue of poverty and giving voice to those whose voices are not normally heard by society.
Through working with non-profits and NGOs (I am open to working anywhere in the world, though my experiences and opportunities will no doubt influence where I find myself able to work) to increase interfaith engagement and fight poverty through service, I hope to heal divides and empower people.
In the more immediate future, I am currently preparing applications for graduate fellowships abroad, such as the Fulbright and the Rhodes scholarships. I will submit those in the fall; the programs of study I hope to follow if I receive one of these fellowships would focus on peace-building and religious conflict resolution. I am also planning on applying to graduate schools within the United States in the fall. To continue with my theme of religion and humanitarian work, I am looking at dual degree programs for a Masters of Divinity and a Masters in Social Work. There are many schools, including Harvard, Boston University, and the University of Chicago, which offer this program, and I have already been able to make some school visits and find out about the exciting opportunities these various institutions offer.
More immediately, however, I am looking forward to this summer, which I will be spending in Italy. I have studied Italian since I first came to Boston University, and now—after saving up for multiple years—I am able to actually go to the country (it will be my first time abroad). I will be doing a program called Conversation Corps, in which I will live with an Italian host family and teach them English. I have already been matched with my host family and have been emailing back and forth with them, and I cannot wait to use my passport for the first time, get on a plane, and see them. I have always had a hunger to travel, and this is, I hope, the first of many journeys I will make to different places around the world.
It is hard for me to express in words the joy and wonder I feel about my experiences here at Boston University. In just three years here, I have transformed and grown as a person. Inspirational professors, professionals, and fellow students have shared their worldviews with me and offered me countless opportunities. I have discovered new passions, new people, and new possibilities.
On one hand, I feel somewhat sad to know that next year will be my last at Boston University. But it is a sadness unsullied by regret, because I know that I have taken full advantage of all that Boston University has presented to me. I want to thank the [Schoalrship Foundation] again for awarding me the [Scholarship] and enabling me to get an education at Boston University—in the fullest sense of the word “education”—and I humbly request a continuation of funding for this last and final year.
All the best,