Welcome to VDS

Each year, VDS invites returning students to offer words of advice to the incoming class. We hope these stories and lived wisdom will help you navigate your own path at Vanderbilt!

Welcome to VDS
by Hayley Elliott, MTS2

I can still see how the words looked as I read them and how they felt on my tongue before my body and spirit got used to the idea. Before I came to VDS, I hadn’t found a lot of spaces where the word “Welcome” came with any sort of authenticity; however, welcome has been a consistent theme within my time at VDS, so I want to be among the first to tell you that you are authentically welcomed here.

But the last thing you need right now is another testimonial. You’ve made your commitment and you’re here, so now what?

The beauty of theological education is that it is usually filled with curious people who have a lot of feelings. Feelings of hope for a more just world and feet that move those feelings to action are two of the best features of the community at VDS.

The feelings you have brought here with you are valid and important. But sometimes, those feelings won’t drive you (or me, or anyone else who has ever done this whole “divinity school” thing) to want to write papers and read the Hebrew Bible.

It’s still very important to keep those feelings in your greater perspective.

And while that perspective is potentially the most important thing to have in your divinity school toolbox, I’d like to suggest that you take the time to meet my best friend, balance.

Balance and I never became friends until midway through my first year of divinity school. But then school, work, activism, and relationships all piled up and I had no idea which way was “up” and which was “down” anymore. So it’s important to know your limits.

Take the time to learn your limits.

During my first year, sometimes I had to accept that there was no way I could accomplish all of the school stuff I needed to do that week. Giving myself some grace in that department did not entirely derail my academic career, and I lived to tell the story.

In absolutely related news, I had to learn to say “no” to some friend gatherings. All of my fellow ENFPs may gasp, but sometimes the best thing I could do for my spirit was to sit alone at home and do nothing at all.

Knowing my limits helped me achieve a form of balance that was crucial to a healthy and happy first year.

Balance is the key to a successful year. Don’t be alarmed if it takes you a few weeks (or months) to find yours. You’re here for a reason, whether that be divinely appointed or appointed by your own self. Maybe it’s both.

So go forth fearlessly into the chaos. I can’t promise you that you’re going to love it, but I can promise you that there are going to be people and systems there to support you and have your back every step of the way.