The Journey

From Whitworth to Harvard
By Kaitlin Jones

Kelsey Rice Bogdan's days start with two-to-three hour classes, only to finish with hours spent on her couch doing homework with her husband. That's what you might expect at Harvard.

But that's not all. In what free time she has, Bogdan works with nonprofits, volunteering at city schools, working on college preparation, answering questions about college applications, and even helping with the faculty selection process during her lunches. This life, however, is not the one she had originally expected God to blow her into.

"When I left Whitworth I was still a little fuzzy on what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn't want t do, which was go to grad school," Bogdan said.

Bogdan, '03, graduated from Whitworth with a degree in English literature and history, and was encouraged by both departments to pursue graduate school. Instead, Bogdan began working with the National Network of Presbyterian College Women, eventually working her way to the position of associate.

"I really love cheesy tourist sites," Bogdan said.

Bogdan had the opportunity to visit many of them as she traveled with the National Network of Presbyterian Women, going to 80 colleges across the country to help women develop leadership skills within the church.

"I found I could take the skills I had and the things I loved, and apply them to people's lives. I could get out there and really help people. I wanted to be able to do something that really mattered," Bogdan said.

It was Bogdan's work with the Presbyterian Church that brought her to graduate school.

"I didn't have the theological background to be effective and credible in that world. I realized I'd have to go back to school," Bogdan said

Bogdan quickly realized that the commonality, nurturing, and face time she had enjoyed at Whitworth would not be the same as what she would find at Harvard.

In her undergraduate years, Bogdan had been drawn to Whitworth and its commitment to the Christian faith. In her graduate school, Bogdan decided to go in a more secular direction.

Bogdan found that at Harvard, the challenges and opportunities the school laid on her threw her into a new, more pluralistic worldview. The school's mission states that "Every encouragement be given to the serious, impartial, and unbiased investigation of Christian truth." The Divinity School is the only one in the country that claims no religious affiliation, and because of its commitment, attracts many different kinds of students, including practicing Muslims working to foster relationships between religions; Jewish scholars working toward their rabbinical studies; atheists looking at religion in an academic context; and all denominations of Christians. This combination of affiliations came together to create an eclectic learning atmosphere.

"At Whitworth people were generally looking at God from the same place. They had many diverse opinions about him, but similar basic assumptions. At Harvard, you can't assume that people are believers in any idea or practice," Bogdan said.

The faith difference wasn't the only difference between Harvard and Whitworth. Students jostling for recommendations from professors considered experts in their field created an atmosphere in which advancement outweighed the closeness Bogdan had experienced at Whitworth. Whereas once professors were easy to access, they now were vastly more protective of their time and reluctant to cultivate relationships.

The academic training Bogdan had received at Whitworth was invaluable in her years at Harvard. Bogdan's Whitworth professors had helped her sharpen her writing and critical thinking skills so that when she arrived at Harvard, she made the adjustment much more easily.

Bogdan also found great support from the relationships she'd cultivated at Whitworth. The community of scholars the school fostered among faculty and students helped her to grow intellectually. Their support has even gone beyond the academic as Bogdan still keeps in touch with some of her professors and often draws encouragement and affirmation from them.

"At Harvard all the doors are open and there are all sorts of opportunity to do great things, but it's not a place that guides you through. In being able to make my way, it helped to know that there are people who believe in me and have encouraged me since I left Whitworth," Bogdan said.

Bogdan's pluralistic realizations have become increasingly important as she looks at rejoining campus ministry in today's post-denominational context.

"Students are racially, socio-economically and religiously diverse and may not even have a background of faith or know anything about the faith tradition that their rooted in," Bogdan said. "This is not some exclusive club that people can't be a part of. We all have to learn to live together to further God's realm of peace and love."

Bogdan plans to continue furthering the life of the church through ministry as a lay person. Though still not sure what role she will take, Bogdan has learned over and over since her time at Whitworth that she should be open to the spirit and where it may take her.

"I'm always open to wherever the wind may blow because I know it's blown me all over, to places I would never have imagined myself," Bogdan said.

Since coming to Harvard Divinity School, Bogdan has become increasingly struck by the story of Abraham when God says to him, "take all your possessions and go to a land I will show you."

"That's what faith is: I'm going to a place I don't know where, but the journey is what is important. It's not as clear as I wish it was, but if God can use me for something that will strengthen the church and the world and will matter, that's enough," Bogdan said.