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Apr 3, 2024 | Blog

By: Carrie (Hays) Pittman, Class of 2004 

When we are young, we are separated into our classrooms in elementary school, and we start to know belonging. Our teacher makes us name tags on our desks. We have circle time, and we get to know our class. We begin to form friendships. We trade friendship necklaces. We save space for our friend at lunch. We invite our friend to our Barbie/GI Joe party. In elementary school, our community and belonging are closely narrated by adults who love us. They begin to show us the importance of knowing belonging. The importance of knowing who we are and where we belong—the importance of being heard and seen. 

As we get older, the responsibility to know belonging falls a little more on our shoulders, but we are still supported by the adults who support us. We may stumble a few times in middle and high school as we clumsily find where we belong. We are discovering who we are still. We are finding our passions. We are failing a few times until we find where we shine. We join a sports team. We make friends. We join the band. We find our tribe. We go to youth group. We find our crew. We unearth our love for science and join the chemistry club. If we are fortunate enough, we have a coach, a teacher, a youth leader, parents or another caring adult who teaches us how to connect with others. Our community and belonging are most often found in our pursuits, activities and interests, and the bonds those create with others. We are slowly gaining more confidence in who we are and what we have to offer the world. If we are fortunate, we will have tasted what community is like and be prepared for what comes next in college. 

Having worked in Higher Education for almost 14 years, I can confidently say that not all colleges are easy to know belonging in. No matter what programs are tried or the initiatives that are curated, knowing belonging in most college settings is challenging, to say the least. It’s easy to become a number and to feel lost in a sea of others, even at a smaller community college. The confidence that was built in middle and high school is now being challenged. We start questioning where we belong, what we have to offer relationships, and whether our contribution will be accepted. 

As an alumnus at NNU, I was fortunate to experience what I have now come to realize is a unique phenomenon in the university setting.  

From the minute we walk on campus as students, we were known and pursued. We went to Welcome Week activities with our new friends. Our RAs planned TWIX Date Nights & Wing Dings to help us get to know other people. Our Freshman Seminar group leader invited us over for dinner and games. Our professors knew our names. The Dex had those round tables where there was always room for one more chair. We worshiped with our fellow students at Time Out and in Chapel. We had peer mentors who reached out to us. SGA was constantly creating opportunities for community. We stood up in the student section at games and cheered until we lost our voices. We went on retreats together. We served our community together. We “studied” in the library together. We joined Bible study groups in our dorms. We grew community through intramural sports and showing off our athletic prowess. Because of the opportunities that NNU created for us, we knew belonging. We knew what it was to be an important and vital part of community. 

We all grew so much holistically because of the intentionality of NNU and its people. We grew academically, spiritually, socially and emotionally. We experienced a loving community where we were seen, known and felt belonging. 

I’m not saying that everyone felt this at every moment. We still struggled; there were moments where some didn’t feel belonging, and sadly, some may have never felt it. I don’t believe it was for lack of NNU and its people constantly seeking opportunities for us to be known and loved. I sincerely hope those who didn’t feel seen at NNU know you are loved and have found your people.  

I remember thinking when I was getting ready to graduate from NNU, and even several years after, that I would never know community and belonging like I did at NNU. All other friendships would pale in comparison with those that I formed there. It was a little depressing to think that, to be honest, and I had a few hard seasons of my life where I really longed to know belonging like I had at NNU. 

But then, slowly, I started discovering community again. It was reminiscent of the belonging I felt at NNU but was different and exactly what I needed at that time in my life. It wasn’t the same, but it was so good. I’m convinced that because I had experienced it before, I knew what to look for and knew how to cultivate it when it came. It took more intentionality than it did at NNU, but because of my experience at NNU, I was equipped to pursue it. 

There have been seasons of my life since college where this belonging and community came more easily than others. During the pandemic, it was harder to come by. We had to be creative in our connecting with others. Many of us have been reminded how grateful we are to not have to social distance and can again spend time with those we love. 

Often, after a major life change—like a move, a marriage or divorce, becoming a parent or starting a new job—connecting is harder. Life gets busy, and the time needed to invest in community isn’t always a priority. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how important those connections are until they aren’t there anymore. 

My hope for you is that you will go through seasons of your life where you will have great community. You will know belonging. You will deeply invest in relationships and, in turn, be deeply invested in. There may be times where you will lose connection. Maybe tragedy, conflict, busyness, or other life circumstances will take away connections. Sometimes, it will feel like you will never feel that connection again. And then it happens—you meet a friend who you relate with. They introduce you to a new group. That group extends to you a new sense of being known. 

NNU taught me what it was like to know good community, be known and know belonging. When you’ve experienced belonging like I did at NNU, you crave it. You search for it. Sometimes, it takes a while to find again, but when it’s there, you recognize it because you know what to look for.  

I hope that you know belonging again and again in your life. That you seek community. You join that ministry. You find that Pickleball court. You invite your neighbor over. You start that new hobby. You say yes to that new opportunity. You sign up for that MOPS group. You cultivate those friendships. You reach out to those not a part of a community yet. When life circumstances make it more difficult to know belonging, keep making it a priority again and again. Because of our time at NNU, I know that finding and knowing belonging is always worth the effort. Until we see each other again, may you be seen, loved and known and extend this grace to everyone you meet. 

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