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UNEXPECTED BELONGING

Mar 29, 2024 | Blog

By: Jace Ziegler, Class of 2021 

From first visit to graduation, Jace knew NNU was home. 

Sometime in the spring of my senior year of high school, my story of belonging at NNU began. I was going on a visit with some friends who had a sibling attending NNU and another who had aspirations of running track at NNU. They invited me, and I thought, “I might as well go along. At least I will get to skip a few days of school.” NNU wasn’t even on my radar for college at all; I knew nothing about it and had mentally decided that I was just along for the ride, but God had a different plan. On the five-hour drive from Zillah, Washington to Nampa, I convinced myself to put aside the notions of what I thought a private Christian college would be like and give NNU a real chance. After we checked in, I trekked across campus to Corlett, where I would be staying for the next few days. As I walked in with my backpack, duffle bag and, of course, red NNU folder, I was met with the vibrant ecosystem of Corlett Hall. The walls near the door were lined with all different types of skateboards, there were people using the kitchen, music playing and an intense ping-pong match taking place. The juniors in the common area spotted me immediately because of my red NNU folder and knew I was in need of some help. I told them the apartment I was looking for, and they politely pointed me in the right direction. As I stood nervously in front of the door of apartment 224 in Corlett, I could hear voices and shouting inside. Just as I had mustered up the courage to knock on the door, a guy came bursting out of the apartment next door and headed straight toward me. Stunned, I just looked at him, and, as if he had known me his whole life, he said, “What’s up, man? Are you staying with these guys? Come on in.” And he opened up the door, and in we went. 

In those three days I spent visiting NNU it felt like I lived a whole college career. My hosts were probably four of the most outgoing guys I had ever met—they were seasoned NNU veterans. They showed me all the ins and outs of campus, the details of what it was like to go there and the traditions of NNU. They took me to classes with them, to chapel, introduced me to people at the Dex and let me play on their intramural team. One evening during my visit, something really special happened. It was just about to get dark, and I was headed back to Corlett to see what my host guys were up to. When I got to the door, it was quieter than usual, and when I went in, about ten or more guys were crammed into the living room. They were doing a Bible study and asked me if I wanted to join. What they didn’t know was that it would be my first ever Bible study. I said, “Sure,” not knowing what I was getting myself into, and they made room for me. I sat and listened as they read and discussed a chapter of Proverbs. I was astonished; I remember feeling fully locked into the moment but also so surprised about what was happening. It wasn’t what I would have ever expected, and as I sat there listening to these guys work together to better understand and improve themselves, I knew this was the belonging I was looking for. 

Not much later, in the fall of 2018, I stepped back on NNU’s campus, knowing where I belonged and wanting all of my peers to feel that same way. For most people, showing up to college on the first day is more similar to showing up to kindergarten than anything else. Most likely you don’t know anybody, you don’t know where to go and you kind of want to go get back in the car with your parents. I wasn’t like that; I wanted nothing more than to be there and to soak it all up. When I got on campus and saw everyone else, something just clicked. I felt so strongly that I was in the right place. I probably resembled a puppy as I ran around that day, introducing myself to everyone I could. The whole atmosphere of New Student Orientation and Week One feels so perfectly curated that you would think NNU created it in a lab, but the real reason it is so impeccable is because so much of it is done by students. Students who feel like they belong and know that they can help others feel that way too. The staff and professors are the same way. It is like they belong to the campus. They do their best to do what is right and uplift their students. I knew I wanted to be a part of that—I wanted to be a part of the team that helps their friends and fellow students at NNU know belonging. 

As my life went on at NNU, many things changed. Some of my friends left, I changed my major, new buildings were put up and some new sports were added, but what didn’t change was my love for SGA. During my first two years I served as Class President and enjoyed getting to help with class parties and events. I had always planned to graduate in three years so as to not financially burden my future with as many student loans. So, when my second year at NNU was winding down, I knew I would only be back for one more, as was always the plan. I knew this was my only chance to run for SGA President. So I did. I remember sitting in Walden Hall, packed full of friends and peers, being more nervous than when I was standing in front of apartment 224 about to knock on the door my first day visiting campus. Then I remembered that I belong here, and with my heart racing, I went up and gave my speech. 

I ended up winning the election. Everything felt so perfect on campus. I had reached my dream, and now it was my turn to help people know that they belonged at NNU…and then the worst happened. The unfortunate circumstances that were COVID interrupted our lives at NNU. We were sent home in March of 2020, and it felt like everything had just been ripped away. As summer went on, things looked grim. We didn’t know what was going to happen. My dream felt like it was gone and that I would finish my college career five hours away from campus through a computer screen. None of us knew if we would ever be back together on campus again. The administrators, professors and staff created a plan and did everything they could to get us back to campus because they knew that’s where we belonged. And like a miracle, they did it. We were one of the only schools to go back; most other places thought we were crazy for going back, but we believed. 

It was different and difficult when we got back to campus, but we all made it work because we knew this was where we were meant to be; the school year turned out to be a great success. We had an amazing SGA team, and they did so many new things while faced with the adversity of COVID restrictions. We let nothing stop us from making campus feel like home again. We all work toward things in our lives and sometimes it turns out completely different than what we expect, and sometimes it turns out to be so much better. And that is what happened that year; it was so much better than expected. College is what you make it —how much you put in is how much you will get out of it—but NNU has an interesting way of multiplying what you get out of it. In the spring of 2021, I walked across the stage in front of the Brandt Center, accepted my degree and shook President Pearsall’s hand. Then I went and packed up my apartment and oddly enough my story at NNU ended in the same place it began—looking at the door to an apartment in Corlett, apartment 224, where I lived my final year at NNU. It was bittersweet. I had done all I set out to do at NNU, yet my time there still did not feel complete. I think that is because there will always be a part of me that belongs there, and I know a part of NNU will always belong to me.