By David Reed
I still remember the day in June 2017 when I begrudgingly stepped foot on the campus of Harding University for Honors Symposium. In all honesty, I had no desire to spend two weeks of my life in Searcy, Arkansas, baking in the summer heat with 49 other people I did not know. What could Harding really offer that was better than the other universities I was considering? In my mind, the answer to that question was “not much.” There was no way that a small school in the middle of nowhere could afford me the opportunities and community I desired.
I could not have been more wrong. By the end of those two weeks, I realized that the value of a Harding education runs much deeper than what can be put on a brochure, shown in a building or even taught in a classroom. The crux of the Harding experience lies in the wonderful community that students have the privilege of participating in on a daily basis. The intangible value of the relationships I built during those two weeks and the promise of being able to build many more shifted the paradigm on which my college decision was made. No longer was I worried about acceptance rates, rankings or statistics. Rather, I was dreaming about the community that I could build by pursuing an education in a faith-based environment with people committed to pushing me in the right direction.
For the better part of 18 months, this community was disrupted, though not lost. While we were not able to gather together, we maintained our level of care for one another as we adapted our habits in the interest of our health. Nonetheless, there was a certain piece of the Harding experience that was notably absent as we navigated this new world. With the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester, the Student Association was excited to see how we could “Keep Moving Forward,” reclaiming this missing and crucial part of student life while hoping that students would recognize its importance in making Harding such a special place.
The student response has been above and beyond anything we could have imagined. We have been amazed (but not entirely surprised) by the wholehearted and enthusiastic participation of the student body in campus events, gatherings and celebrations. The excitement of being back together, of being in community, is palpable. This was clear from the start, as students came together in September to provide necessities to Afghan refugees displaced by the takeover of the Taliban. In a matter of days, by the grace of God and the strength of the Harding community, we collected over 100 boxes from social clubs, campus organizations and individuals, far surpassing our original goal of 50. Moreover, the extended Harding community consisting of alumni, parents and friends chipped in to donate over $7,000 in support of this cause. This was only possible because we chose to come together as a student body.
I remember walking up to the Rhodes-Reaves Field House for Midnight Madness 20 minutes before it was supposed to start, thinking that there would not be a long line to get in. I was wrong. The line, five people wide, stretched all the way to the Ganus Activities Complex lawn. The Har-ding community could not wait to come together and cheer on their fellow students. Football tailgates, with some amazing encouragement from coach Paul Simmons, have been more crowded and exciting than they ever were in my freshman year. Family weekend brought a flood of parents, siblings and extended family back to campus for the first time since Spring of 2020, making the celebration feel like Homecoming came a month early.
The Botham Jean memorial dedication demonstrated the commitment of the Har-ding student body and wider community to honor the memory of someone who was and is so dear to us. Relay 4 Life honored those students, family members, faculty and community members who are fighting or have fought the tremendous battle against cancer. Churches are full once again as Har-ding students and community members alike are eager to learn, worship and spend time in community. Wednesday night Bible studies have resumed meeting in the homes of professors, coaches, administrators, students and community members as young and old come together in recognition that we are better when we learn from one another.
A relationship with Christ requires a relationship with the body of Christ. The two cannot be separated. Through the trials and tribulations of the past year and a half, one thing has become abundantly clear, especially at Harding: we are better when we are in community.
David Reed is a finance major from Vienna, Virginia. His editorial originally appeared in the Dec. 3, 2021, issue of The Bison.