The fact that Veena Tharayil marched with the 2013 graduating class from Maplewood Academy in Hutchinson, Minnesota is extraordinary for a student who a year before had never heard of Seventh-day Adventists and was more interested in partying than studying. In an attempt to turn their daughter’s life around, Veena’s parents had called various charter and Catholic boarding schools before contacting MWA—on the recommendation of a friend—and being offered a campus tour.

“When my parents told me that the next morning the three of us would be going to take a tour I said, ‘No, I’m not going,’” Veena recalls. “I wasn’t the greatest teenager to have around!”

Although she spent the evening crying in her room, by the next morning Veena’s attitude had changed. “I decided that I wasn’t going to fight with them since I didn’t have a choice, so I got ready and we left peacefully.”

As their guide, Mr. Ellstrom, kindly showed the family around and answered her parents’ questions, Veena remained quiet. “I was tired from crying the night before and wasn’t too excited about being there. After we got back home it was decided that I was attending that school in the fall.”

New Places, New Faces

The night before registration Veena stayed up late packing. When she arrived at the academy the campus was already bursting with activity. “I observed people hugging and greeting each other in excitement. It seemed like everyone knew each other. I knew no one. Yet during the registration process the faculty greeted my parents and me with smiles and were very helpful.”

At the girls dorm Dean Mally warmly welcomed Veena, and several students introduced themselves and offered to help her move in. One girl showed Veena her closet and explained the dress code, and another girl invited her to supper in the cafeteria. “I was so used to delicious homemade Indian food with real meat,” says Veena. “I took one bite of the fake meatball then looked at my mom and said, ‘Are you really going to leave me here?’ It took me awhile to get used to the food and living in the dorm, but each day I got more and more comfortable at Maplewood.”

One of Veena’s favorite classes proved to be Bible, which surprised her since she had not been a fan of Sunday school. “I found myself wanting to know more and asking a lot of questions. Thankfully Mrs. Vigil, my Bible teacher, was kind and open to answering them all. I was exposed to Jesus in a whole new way like I’ve never experienced before.” Guest speakers, musical concerts, the testimonies of other students, along with the answer to a specific prayer Veena prayed all worked together to inspire her and strengthen her faith.

At Maplewood Veena tried new activities, including playing sports with the Lady Huskies and joining band. “I made so many memories, such as going to North Star Camp with the whole school, falling off a canoe, doing senior prank night, volunteering at the nursing home with Ms. Cummings, getting candy from Mr. Okimi’s office, receiving extra help from the teachers, and so much more! I made new friends who I could pray with, have Bible studies with, and talk about God with.”

A Brighter Path

Like any high school, Maplewood Academy isn’t perfect and being there wasn’t always easy for Veena. However, the overall experience was much more positive than negative, and she is thankful that God led her there.

“Things are so different now,” Veena adds. “Before Maplewood, I would never go out of my way to open the Bible. Now I read it every day. My parents are glad they sent me to MWA. They say I’ve really changed and that I’ve become more appreciative and respectful to them. Also, my grades are better.”

Although Veena never expected to attend a Christian college, the 2013-14 school year found her enrolled at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. Veena hopes to continue her walk with Jesus, gain an education, and become successful in a good career so she can donate money back to Maplewood in return for what she received there.

“My parents, extended family, and family friends prayed a lot for me. I think Maplewood was the answer to their prayers,” Veena concludes. “If God weren’t so gracious and merciful, I wouldn’t have had this experience and be who I am today.”