Hard to Say Goodbye
As one of the church’s oldest academies shuts its doors, a longtime staff member shares an emotional farewell
Story by Shari Bellchambers
A kaleidoscope of emotions slowly spun across the day. The faded blue of what would never be—another graduation blended with the royal pride for the accomplishments of the Class of 2015. And, in the midst of memories came the brilliant accents of an alumni gift: a [paid-in-full] diploma in every graduate’s hand as they crossed the stage. Then, a water-colored landscape filled with smiles and hugs and tears, then stillness, a silence that etched the heart with longings for what once was.” These are the reflective words of Dan Kittle, principal, describing the final graduation to take place on the grounds of Mount Vernon Academy (MVA) in Mount Vernon, Ohio, this summer. MVA, the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s oldest consecutively running boarding school*, hosted their last degree ceremony amid sorrow and joy—a somber day in the history of Adventist education. The joy of graduation and future success danced awkwardly alongside defeat.
Into the Fields
Throughout the weekend, we felt the hand of God lead us through the conflicting emotions. We saw it in the students as they snapped pictures, made future plans and exchanged emails and addresses. We heard it in the wisdom and advice given to us by the guest speakers. Aaron Myers, the academy’s IT director, told us to remember to keep our GPS (God’s positioning system) with us at all times on our journey ahead, and pointed out that “every student who ever attended MVA was stationed here by God for a purpose.” Cliff Wright, a Commonweal Foundation liaison for the Columbian Union, instructed us to “commit our talents and skills to the Lord, pray about all things and put nothing in life ahead of God.” Jeff Morris, former MVA Spanish and physical education teacher now employed at Fletcher Academy (N.C.), closed the weekend by emboldening us with these words: “MVA has been our refuge and safe place for a long time, but it’s time now to move into the world to be ‘men who will not be bought or sold, men who … are true and honest. … men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall’” (Education, p. 57). It’s true. God used MVA to make a difference in the lives of thousands of students throughout the decades, and now He will use them in the fields into which He has sent them.
Tragedy to Joy
The weekend was as beautiful as it was hard. Students and faculty shared how much they meant to each other, mended old wounds, shared prayers and spent extra time communing together. They passed around yearbooks to fill with warm and loving notes. This was our time; our last moments together and we knew it. No alumni gatherings wait expectedly in our futures. Many students are taking away the blessing from the tragedy. “Saying goodbye to MVA was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Although it may be closed, the relationships and memories I have … will still live on. Through all the tears and goodbyes, God has a plan,” says junior Taylor Scalzo. Junior Joshua Morin says it beautifully: “MVA is a part of me, and not even a future without it can change that.” Senior Alyssa Thompson adds, “Graduating from MVA was bittersweet, knowing it may be the last time I step foot on these sacred grounds. But, I know that MVA is less about the rooms and more about the people. MVA is my family and I will carry them with me wherever I go.”
My husband, Bruce, and I spent 30 wonderful years on MVA’s campus. It has been surreal waiting for the last weekend. Every activity we did this school year was for the last time: our last music tour, last acro performance, last picnic, last alumni weekend, last vespers—our last graduation. Janesta Walker, echoes my own thoughts saying, “I feel as though we have been sitting by the bedside of a hospice patient, and now we are saying farewell to a beautiful piece of Adventist history. … It is empty now forever. It is like a death.” Many of our faculty, staff and students will spread out to other academies and institutions, some as far away as California. David Nino, music teacher, says, “I take with me wonderful memories of my time at MVA. The Lord has blessed our family in giving us the opportunity to work with amazing young people, and we look forward to continuing to serve Him in our new home at Shenandoah Valley Academy.” Now after 122 God-positioned years, one of our denomination’s flagship academies is gone. On multiple levels, life will never be the same for many of us. But, the promises of God are still true, the instructions still stand and the marching orders remain the same: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NIV).
And, that is exactly what we are going to do. No one is done yet. What Satan meant for evil, God will use for good. In Isaiah, God promises “beauty for ashes,” and through the future years, as each student graduates from college, begins a career and starts their family, out of the “ashes” of each classroom and office of MVA will echo the speakers’ instructions to keep your eyes on Jesus, preach the gospel and be ready when He comes. For in the end, that is all that matters. *MVA was forced to close after failing to reach benchmarks set by the Ohio Conference Executive Committee earlier this year in a final attempt to save the historic school, which opened in 1893.