Right around this time of year three years ago, when I was a senior in high school, I was working on college and scholarship applications in addition to my senior year workload, which wasn’t easy. Any current high school seniors empathize with me? You know the endless to-do lists and late nights I’m describing. Preparing to go to college is a full time job, especially when you have to put in a lot of effort to get the needed funds, as most of us do.
It’s so, so worth it though. If my parents hadn’t pushed me to work so hard on all those applications, if my high school teachers hadn’t written heartfelt letters of recommendation, and if countless prayers hadn’t been offered up on my behalf, I wouldn’t be attending such a generous school with grateful, generous alumni that donate hundreds of thousands of dollars each year – and I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Dordt is remarkable all around only because God is working through every intricacy, and the financial aid department is no exception.
I do, however, remember one particular Dordt scholarship that I was hesitant to apply for: the Kuyper Scholars program. This isn’t a résumé-and-receive scholarship, like most are. This is a $2,000 per year deal earned by spending four college years participating in the honors program, which is run as an 18 credit minor.
Um, me? A college honors program? I didn’t know if I had the brains to tackle that, and more importantly, I was pretty sure I didn’t have the drive to tackle that.
But the money and the prestige were enticing, so I applied. And I was accepted.
But the money and the prestige were not enough to keep me in the program. Those benefits alone wouldn’t even have carried me through KSP151: Christian Writing and Rhetoric, the introductory course that KSP students take together. I thought the endless to-do lists and late nights of scholarship applications were grueling, but assignments for KSP151 made me remember that process with fondness.
At the same time, though, all of the challenging projects I completed for KSP151 were compelling. Because I became a Christian in late middle school, and because I attended an EPC church through high school, I knew the Reformed tradition. But because I’d never been through catechism or confirmation, I lacked the language to articulate my beliefs and the depth to apply them to every sphere of life. Debating various philosophies (including Plato vs. Des Cartes, Calvin vs. Arminius, Freud vs. Jung, etc.), discussing Abraham Kuyper’s specific writings, and carrying those conversations into the commons with my fellow KSP students gave me the opportunity to solidify and vocalize my own opinions. Everything we learned was pertinent to daily life. So even if I didn’t love crawling into bed at 4:00am after finally finishing the reading due that morning, I loved what I was learning and I loved the people I was learning with. We bonded over our strange blend of ambitious misery, and we’re still close friends today because of it. In fact, I met four of my six current roommates in KSP151.
This course happens during freshman fall, and the rest of the KSP program is spaced throughout the student’s remaining semesters however he or she sees fit. Essentially, you get to design your own minor, and you get to choose what and when you want to study. Then, based on your specific interests, you join some book clubs or you find a faculty advisor and create an independent study or you do an extra project for a class you’re currently taking or you edit the Crossing, Dordt’s bi-semesterly academic publication. You’re in charge of your own studies, and you’re accountable only to yourself.
Examples? The summer after my freshman year, I completed an independent study from home. I got a job co-directing two musicals at the K-12 school I graduated from, and I studied directing. I read three or four books on directing techniques, applied all those directing tactics to my own rehearsals, and updated a journal/best practices list every night when I got home from rehearsal, ultimately compiling all I learned into a lengthy essay on my personal directing philosophy. I Skyped Teresa Ter Haar, the head of the theatre department, periodically throughout the summer to monitor my progress, and she assessed my written reflections once I arrived back on campus in the fall. Ultimately, I gave a presentation on all I learned, complete with photos and videos of my students performing. For another independent study, I spent a semester writing my own book of poetry mimicking ee cummings. I’m currently working on a paper detailing the history of and biblical response to the Red Light District in Amsterdam, as I visited the Netherlands last summer with a group from Dordt and was heartbroken by what I experience during our brief venture through that particular alleyway.
Totally and completely random? Yes. But these are all issues I’m passionate about, issues I’d be researching whether I were a KSP student or not.
The final aspect of KSP is writing and attending KSP seminars, which happen during the 11:00 community block on Mondays and Fridays. What is a seminar? It’s a short paper/presentation combo on any topic the writer finds interesting. I’ve completed four: two explaining the symbolism in my favorite musicals, one detailing my personal view of Biblical feminism, and one discussing the use of vulgarity in narrative storytelling. KSP students are required to give eight seminars, and they’re also required to attend eight seminars, participating by asking questions and contributing to group discussion following each presentation.
Wait, we’re only required to attend eight? Well, I’ve attended several dozen. My classmates do their work so well, and it’s fascinating to be a part of fast paced conversation about Trump’s policies, Kendrick Lamar’s raps, neurofibromatosis, Esther’s sexually unethical rise to royalty – all the while questioning how a Christian should respond to the given issues. We talk about anything and everything, and it’s always compelling. I leave seminars with an expanded mind, ready to critically think and grow as a result.
So is KSP a challenge? Absolutely. But being a Kuyper Scholar gives me a platform to pursue my passions (and get college credit for them, which is pretty neat). Being a Kuyper Scholar connects me with other people that are interested in growing their minds, thereby spurring my own growth. Being a Kuyper Scholar forces me to become a more articulate, more thoughtful human being.
Being a Kuyper Scholar isn’t for everyone, but here’s the truth if any of you high school seniors are thinking about applying: I’m nothing special. I’m not brilliant, and I’m not overly academic. Yet, I love the extra work. And if you’ve ever been passionate about anything at any point in your life, I’m sure you would, too.