Every young person who graduates from St. Stephen’s Academy is unique, and will have his own particular calling and gifts – so in one sense it is impossible to paint a picture of a “typical” graduate of St. Stephen’s. That said, there are qualities that we hope everyone who graduates from the school possesses.
Under God’s grace, we pray that graduates of St. Stephen’s will possess a tender-hearted devotion to Jesus Christ, a godly character, and a longing for holiness. We strive to “educate unto virtue” – and if we only manage to graduate students who are talented and eloquent but lack a love of God and neighbor, then we will have failed. We pray that our graduates will receive by faith all that our God has revealed to them and promised to them in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in his name “ (John 20:31).
We pray that by God’s grace our graduates will exhibit the “fruit of the spirit” as described in Galatians 5; that they will consistently and faithfully exhibit the qualities of true Christian love found amongst those who possess new life in Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 13); that they will exhibit integrity, dignity, and reverence for authorities and orders established by God; that they will strive to honor God and respond to His grace by seeking to please Him in all things with genuine and heartfelt obedience to His law; that they learn to use the gifts that God has given to them in order to serve others, rather than for “selfish ambition or conceit”, “but in humility to count others more significant than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). We pray that our graduates will demonstrate servants’ hearts in keeping with the namesake of our school, St. Stephen, who was “full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” and was among those named by the Apostles to serve the poor and the widows.
We strive to inculcate in our students a love of what is good, true and beautiful. They love goodness – virtue and faithful loving obedience. They love the truth – God’s Word. And they love both the natural beauty of God’s creation, as well as the beauty of what man, made in God’s image, has created – great works of art, music, architecture, literature. (Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8)
We earnestly pray that in addition to exhibiting godly character, our graduates will be wise and eloquent. They will have learned a corpus of knowledge that makes them truly educated young men and women – a deep familiarity with the broad themes of western heritage, of great works of literature and art and music, of math and science, language, and above all the Queen of sciences – theology. They will be wise and discerning, not easily swayed by superficial arguments, but able to dissect and critically analyze what they hear and read. Like St. Stephen, their wisdom will be guided by the Spirit of God; they will be able to eloquently express their convictions, and under God’s providence they will be used by Him to draw His elect to Himself. Upon graduation from St. Stephens Academy, our graduates will have a basis for a lifelong devotion of being “transformed by the renewal of their minds, that by testing they may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Moreover, our prayer is that all of our graduates will be well prepared to discern what particular calling that God has ordained for them, and that their broad, integrated, classical education will serve as a foundation that will equip them as they continue to learn and serve for the rest of their lives.
We believe that these aims of godly character, and wisdom and eloquence, are complementary. We believe that God is glorified as our graduates use the gifts of intelligence and talents that He gave them, for His good purposes. Our prayer is that our students, at their end, will hear these words from our Lord, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” and that their experience at St. Stephen’s will have contributed substantially to the formation of redeemed and equipped men and women, who, under the grace of God, are worthy of such a reception at the last.
To speak to the great gift I was given by St. Stephens I must first preface that my experiences are personal and do not reflect the opinions of the United States Military Academy or the United States Army. Second, the last five years of college have been one long lesson in humility. At least once a day I am reminded that it is only by the grace of God that I am still a cadet. It is through His power that I am on track to graduate. It is hard to explain the types of stress placed on cadets, and harder still to explain the pain of quitting on yourself. Yet through these experiences God drags me back out of the foxhole, the mud and swamp, and pushes me to Himself. My ability to look back and see God’s hand in my life is the first and greatest gift St. Stephens gave me. By being taught and saturated in His word in The Word I find comfort. In my weakest moments, moments the Academy tries to drive all cadets to, it is God who wins my victories.
For the first three years of college I demanded to do things my way. And in these endeavors I failed, physically, mentally, and spiritually. This failure was not for a lack of education, the education in fact leads me to greater pride. It was this self interested pride that lead to my failures. Without God I am nothing. I fully believe that God was driving this pride out of me to bring home that point. He reminded me that my education did not come from myself, rather it was the years of hard work from dedicated instructors (this being the second gift of St. Stephens). It was His work through His people that created and molded me. God as the potter crafted me and is making me in His image for His purposes. And at the United States Military Academy, I have learned that I have no clue what His purposes are, but I do know I am in His will. For all the fears I am forced to face, all of the sin I find myself in, and all the doubt that besets my heart, I find a permanent comfort in Him and the salvation and adoption given by His Son.
God has used St. Stephens to give me these treasures. Without the school I do not know how I would identify myself. Without these memories I cannot conjecture who I would be. I firmly believe that God’s divine will guides my life regardless of my own desires. And looking back into my recent past, St. Stephens is one of the gifts I would wish to pass on. Words do not express the joy and comfort I have been given by my school. To paint my own portrait without St. Stephens would be impossible. I am a sinner whom God has richly blessed.
Very few people forget their high school graduation. It is a milestone – a moment from which a traveler looks back, and a time upon which a traveler looks back after he has continued on his way. Looking back upon my own recent graduation from St. Stephen’s, I recall the strange experience of looking back and catching a glimpse of the path in which God has led me. Though this path did not begin at St. Stephen’s, nor has it ended there, St. Stephen’s was certainly a green pasture in which I was fed richly.
At that graduation, as we graduates looked around, we saw many faces: of teachers, of fellow students, and of members of the school community as a whole. Looking at my teachers, I realized how much their influence had formed who I am. Children are great imitators; I could not have wished for better models for imitation than these. They exhibited love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control on so many occasions, both inside the classroom and outside of school. My classmates and I can certainly remember some powerful moments when our teachers forgave us as Christ forgave them. The virtuous character of our teachers substantiated the lessons they taught us in words. With these words, our teachers gave us the tools to understand, to examine, and to express what we believe. Their lessons challenged us even as they nurtured us. Reinforcing the efforts of our parents and our churches, our teachers not only spent valuable class-time on biblical instruction, but also demonstrated that we should not leave our Bibles in Bible class; they ingrained in us the habit of looking to the Scriptures for the ultimate truth by which we understand all other truth. Years of instruction in the Scriptures and in the Christian faith came to a head in our senior year apologetics class; Pastor Lewis’ own experience in this, and his wise teaching on the Scriptures themselves, readied us to “give a defense of the hope that is in us” (I Peter 3:15). None of us would claim that we know everything in the Bible, or that we now walk with God perfectly; one of the main things I learned from that apologetics class was to trust God, not my own understanding or expression, to save. Though we do not depend on our knowledge or righteousness, I am grateful to God for providing me with teachers who directed us in the right way in our youth – that is, according to God’s Word (Psalm 119:9).
I am also grateful to God for providing me with Christian friends at St. Stephen’s. Looking at my fellow students at that graduation ceremony, I realized how we had learned to love one another. Certainly, our love was imperfect. Certainly, each one of us had faults. But we were forced to overcome the challenges to love as we spent so much time in close companionship, learning, eating, playing, organizing and enjoying activities together. We had to forgive one another, and to ask forgiveness from one another. We also had to listen to one another: I have learned a great deal from the observations of my classmates, sometimes in class, sometimes outside of class. As my friends encountered many of the same experiences and joys and trials, I was inspired by their examples. This experience of learning how to relate to my classmates provided a stepping stone for learning how to relate to Christ’s body, the church.
Looking around at the whole school community, I was overwhelmed with the realization of what it meant to live in a “grace-filled” environment. Not only were there many adults here modelling the life transformed by God’s grace and sharing it with us children; not only were there many instances of gracious Christian love: most powerful of all, my classmates and myself (and everyone, in fact) had been held up before the throne of grace for all the time we were at St. Stephen’s. At graduation, each student received a charge from a particular teacher. Listening to these charges, and especially to the convicting and inspiring challenge which Mrs. Boden delivered to me, I realized that these saints had been praying for us very specifically. That, more than anything else, has affected my Christian walk. Faithful Christian mothers and fathers and relatives and teachers and students and administrators and friends prayed that God would develop Christian character in each and every one of us, often praying for students by name. God answers prayer.
In that retrospect at graduation, I remember perceiving some of the seeds that God had planted and cultivated in me without my even noticing it. Between then and now, I have come to see even more ways in which God used my experiences to shape me for Himself and for His use in later experiences. I am sure that, as the years pass, I will see yet more fruit from currently invisible seeds sown at St. Stephen’s. At the same time, I doubt I will ever know all God’s ways – certainly not in this life. That in itself, is one of the most valuable lessons I learned at St. Stephen’s: God moves in mysterious ways, performing wonders which we may not even see. To accept that truth, trusting God’s ways rather than our own, is Christian maturity indeed; to have been taught this from youth is a precious first step.
As I grow a little older, I look back on my education at St. Stephen’s as one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given because it has had such a distinguishable and positive impact on my life in so many ways that I never realized it would at the time.
One aspect of education at SSA that I am most thankful for is the time I spent learning about church and world history, the sciences, art, mathematics, and other subjects through the lens of the story of God’s redemption of man. I feel that experiencing this learning process and practicing this kind of thoughtfulness has been one of the most powerful tools I have been taught to use because, as I continue to study Scripture its timelessness is made all the more apparent. Additionally, I know with this education I am able to understand God’s divine words to us on deeper levels than what the letters on a page literally spell out. I am speaking about the ability to study the poetic and narrative language written in the bible and look at what is being revealed in light of what was happening at the time it was written, what was soon to come, what is happening now, and what is told to come in the future through the writers unique writing styles. I feel like this is an indispensable tool that is tough to develop on your own, and I am so blessed to have been taught how to study scripture in a way that honors God and the truth He wrote through each author in Scripture. I have definitely witnessed ways this has helped me grow in my relationship with Christ. This multidimensional way of looking at and meditating on Scripture only makes a person’s love for God stronger, and their enthusiasm to be a part of His kingdom greater. This is especially true for St. Stephen’s graduates like myself that practice looking at our world in light of the story of God rescuing us. This tool is one that St. Stephen’s staff spent hours helping me developing during my studies at St. Stephen’s and I cherish the experience greatly, and the best part is that I will always continue to build on this education as I continue to live for Jesus.
Another way my education at St. Stephen’s Academy contributed to my growth in Christian maturity was through how I was shown that value of learning truth and developing wisdom for personal growth, but the greater value of acting upon it by consistently striving to serve others—to serve Jesus. Sometimes it can be very scary to step out of your comfort zone and help people in even the smallest ways, but God calls use to “Defend the weak and the fatherless” and to “uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3). At St. Stephen’s I can remember discussing ways in which we could serve our community and then scattering to help people who desperately need to feel Christ’s love both individually and as a team. The reason why this is so difficult, at least I think, is because we have to lay down our pride and our own desires, and break the “enlightened” and hyper individualist mold we have made for ourselves at this place in history and be willing to sacrifice our reputations, time, and money to love others the way that Jesus loves us. At St. Stephen’s I learned and had the opportunity to practice multiple ways to love our neighbors for the sake of sharing God’s unconditional love, and one of the most improved outlets for me has been through my words. It is very difficult to constantly speak in ways that honor God, but we must remember that it is very important to not give up because “the tongue can bring death or life” (Prov, 18:21). The way I express myself verbally and and in writing became refined at St. Stephen’s not only grammatically but also in the words I chose to share. St. Stephen staff showed me by example and in studies that sharing the truth about sin and salvation is important but how we express ourselves and our own emotions to others should reflect the grace we have been given and not whatever words we think a situation merits.
I look very happily to the future where the number of St. Stephen’s graduates continues to grow and more young people are a part of a community where we strive to continue maturing in our spiritual relationship with God, our mentality, and our actions.
Looking back on my recent years at St. Stephen’s Academy, I can testify that the goals set forth in this “Portrait of a Graduate” were the same ones my teachers aimed for as they invested not only in my learning, but also in my character. When I first read this portrait, my thoughts were, “This is one intense goal; as a graduate of SSA, I certainly don’t live up to it.” As a standard of excellence in character and knowledge, as something to strive to be, I know I and fellow graduates fall short. But I do know each professor and headmaster I worked with had my spiritual growth as their most important goal.
After graduating, lessons and advice from my elders at St. Stephen’s have stayed with me. I find myself thinking back on the direct, applicable teaching we received in assemblies or in the classroom. Mr. Breckenridge’s warnings not to give in to the root of sin, greed and pride, has continued to convict me over and over again. When I am enjoying moments of success, his frequent reminder “not to be overcome by hubris” is often on my mind. Pastor Lewis’ explanation of 2 Peter: 5-11 also greatly impacted the way I think of the Christian life and my walk with God. It taught me to think of being a Christian not a set of qualities that I walked away from St. Stephens with, or a to do list of self-improvement tips that I work to possess and then move on with life. First and foremost, I was taught that the Christian life is one that you cannot be lazy about, one that you let happen to you; you must seek for it, ask for it from God and pray daily for grace from Him.
Knowing my personal tendencies to passivity and withdrawal, I think this has been the most valuable gift SSA gave to my growth in Christian maturity. It has been the admonishment to make my faith my own. I know I can’t depend on my parents or my past to determine my faith for me. It is not ultimately theirs or the school’s responsibility to give me faith. They put me where my faith would grow, taught me moral lessons and more importantly to love Jesus, but they rightly left it between me and Christ Jesus to take ownership of that faith and trust in him as my personal Savior.