Stop. Breathe. Relax.

VDS students Summer 2014

This week, we share words of advice prepared by second year MDiv, James W. Dennis III, for our first year students.

Stop. Breathe. Relax. The hardest part of your transition to Vanderbilt Divinity School is over!  You are finally here!!  Congratulations!!   However, don’t celebrate too soon.  A pat on the back is appropriate at this point, but don’t go too overboard. Divinity School’s greatest challenge is still before you—getting out!  Today is the start of an amazing, beautiful, scary, bumpy journey filled with surprises, ups-and- downs, tears, laugher, and the joys of developing into the person you are to become.  Let me share with you some tips on how to get the most out of this journey.

  1. Social media doesn’t want you to pay attention in class or to study. I know this tad bit of revelation is shocking, but it is true.  There is no such thing as a good “multi-tasker”.  It has been proven that divided attention impairs learning and lessens the ability to remember.  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Christian Mingle are the perfect solutions when you feeling overwhelmed in class, but they will not help you pass Hebrew Bible.
  2. Feeling out of place and lost is normal—I promise. Divinity School attracts a lot of smart people, and as you interact with faculty and students, you may feel that you are not smart enough or that you don’t belong here.  This is a lie.  Remember that this is a “step by step” journey; quantum leaps do not exist.  It is perfectly normal to feel nervous and worried; if you break down in your academic advisor’s office, you won’t be the first. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect! The Divinity School has cultivated a space that will support you as you grow and evolve. You will eventually become a better scholar and thinker.
  3. Divinity School is a part-time job. Schedule! Schedule! Schedule!  Course work can be like working another job at times.  So thinking about your course work as a job can help you stay focused.  Putting yourself on a regular schedule will help you manage what will seem like an overwhelming load.
  4. Don’t let Divinity School be your entire life. Make time to live!  (I would like to say I’m an expert on this tad bit of advice.)  If you schedule time to have a little fun, Divinity School will go by a lot quicker.  Sit outside and read fiction, go to the movies, join a faith community, or explore the Natchez Trace Parkway with a significant other.  Nashville is a wonderful city.   Enjoy it!
  5. Don’t Procrastinate. I shouldn’t have to say more.
  6. Don’t ignore your health—physical or emotional! Let me tell you a secret! Your mind and body will break down if you don’t relax, exercise, eat well and or SLEEP! Give yourself a break.  If you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed, go see Angela Dillon in Admissions.  I’ve never met a more honest and genuine person who cares deeply! If she can’t help you, utilize the Psychological and Counseling Center. Help is free!
  7. Finally, remember that you are the captain on this journey! Don’t let other people try to tell you what to do or what to become!  Don’t try to compare yourself to others! Don’t let others silence your voice!  Don’t let others run over you or manipulate you! What matters is that you come to understand what you really want! Give your self the opportunity to discover your own passions and how to manifest them.  “Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”- Howard Washington Thurman

Well this is it.  You have already made everyone proud. Now go make a difference.

I believe in you!

James W. Dennis III, MDiv 2