When I decided to pack my bags and move more than 1,500 miles from home for college at Union, I knew no one there. Yet I have met some of the most remarkable people. In times of uncertainty and vulnerability, we can see the biblical Esthers in those around us.
Through faith and resiliency, even with the possibility of death, Queen Esther was able to secure her people and fulfill the will of God. Throughout the book of Esther, one phrase sticks with me the most: “for such a time as this.” The pretext to these words shows an understanding that the deliverance of Esther’s people would come one way or another. But she was placed in her position for a reason, and it was her choice to answer the call.
In my time at Union College, I have witnessed those who have answered the call, seized their moment, and changed many lives, including mine. Here are a few of their stories.
As a sophomore at Union College, I met Professor Lori Peckham. Immediately, her desire and care for her students and those around her was apparent. Peckham has fought the battles of life yet continues to be a light in the lives of those around her.
During her time in graduate school in Southern California, life changed in a flash for Peckham. A truck pulling a horse trailer plummeted into her car. The accident resulted in her losing consciousness and being rushed to Riverside General Hospital for evaluation. During this time it was evident that the EMTs and those assisting in her care were concerned about the possibility of a broken spine.
Peckham felt for the first time she was truly alone. She remembers looking up at the blood-splattered ceiling of the hospital wondering what life would be like if she was permanently paralyzed. She began to pray. “I felt a peace come over me,” she said. It wasn’t reassurance that she was not paralyzed, but rather that no matter the outcome, hope for a good life still remained. She began to list what she could still enjoy—books, food, music, conversation—and through faith and resiliency pushed through that experience and subsequent battles with a never-fading smile.
Sarah Gilbert remembers God pushing her to go to Union College. Gilbert already had plans to attend another college when she felt that God “would not stop pushing me.” In August she made the decision to attend Union.
Later Gilbert was “pushed” by God again to go back as a full-time employee. Again there was no plan for this to happen, but she just could not shake the feeling that God wanted her to do this. Gilbert made a deal with God, that if three people completely unrelated to the situation would tell her to apply, she would. She remembers that within one day of making this pact, she received the message to apply for the position three times.
She knew there was no going back. It was this decision that would catapult her into a 45-year career in which she has earned the titles of professor, life coach, and friend. Her enthusiasm for life and her desire to be a source of hope for all those around her have been an inspiration for hundreds if not thousands of students and colleagues, myself included.
Gilbert now is a full-time life coach for the Student Success Center. She works with many students who are on academic probation or just having a hard time adjusting to college life. She says, “It is an honor to offer hope to students who don’t see a way out.”
Gilbert’s favorite quote that she shares with all the students who walk through her door says: “Those who are fighting the battle of life at great odds may be strengthened and encouraged by little attentions that cost only a loving effort” (Ellen White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 158).
Dr. Tanya Cochran has spent the past 17 years influencing the lives of countless students. During her second semester in her Ph.D. program, Cochran received a phone call from a previous professor, then president at Union, asking her to interview for an opening in the Humanities Division.
Apart from picking up her life and starting fresh far away from friends and family, Cochran has faced accidents, health concerns, broken relationships, and even the passing of loved ones. Through it all, she has endured and remained steadfast in her passion for helping and teaching others.
Cochran’s faith has been a driving force for her: “Through my experiences, as hard as some things in life have been, I really do feel God has been present for me, not just in spirit but actually working through the life of people who care about me.”
Aside from her desire to teach, her passion for connecting with others on a human level has always been there. Many colleagues and students, including me, have vivid memories of Cochran’s acts of kindness and understanding in some of life’s most difficult times. Sometimes to change a person’s life, it comes down to just being there. “We are supposed to live in community. We can’t do everything by ourselves,” said Cochran. “When we’re struggling, that’s when we need people to come around.”
Jacob Sanchez is a senior communication major at Union College from Bakersfield, California, the fruit and oil capital of the United States.