Thursday, June 27, 2013

Reflections on a 50th Class Reunion at an Adventist College

by Kathleen Dunn

Pacific Union College, Angwin, CA, in April. Gorgeous! My alma matter and this April 18-12, 2013, the site of my 50th class reunion from college. Unbelievable – that much time gone!? Well, here we are nevertheless, a sizable group of us former classmates, including my husband of nearly 50 years, and many college friends of the same duration, some even going back to my academy years.

On Friday, April 19, Bob and I were driving along the Silverado Trail heading toward Calistoga. As we drove enjoying the spring beauty, I felt again the atmosphere of youth, as if we were 21 again, with much ahead of us – marriage, graduate school, career, children, a full life. I reflected on our sheltered worldview in 1963, both secular and religious. When we graduated, we were optimistic about our personal future and that of our country. We had no doubt that us two and all of our classmates would have careers or find work easily. We understood the USA to be a safe place and did not imagine the turmoil that the Vietnam War would bring, or the hippie generation, or the assassinations of the 1960’s. We, like all generations before us, were headed for many shocks in the years to come. We were headed for significant changes in our worldview and our religions perspectives.

Just as much was ahead of us at 21, much is behind us now at 71 – the degrees gotten, the careers achieved and retired from (mostly), the children grown, the grandchildren here and a more relaxed life. I remember how at 21 the years ahead seemed endless, and thought how at 71, they seem not nearly enough. We can see an end coming into view.  Very bitter sweet, a 50th reunion. It brings up all these thoughts about past and future.  So, rather than living too much in the past or thinking much about the future, we now live in the present moment.

For the first 21 years I lived in an Adventist cocoon of church, elementary school, academy, and college. All my friends were Adventists, as were my relatives, and my parent’s close friends. I never considered going to a non-Adventist college, just as I never once considered not going to college at all. I don’t think I was much different in this regard from many of my academy friends who went on to SDA colleges. I accepted SDA doctrine without a lot of thought and focused on other, more important issues to me – marriage, graduate school, career.

The first jolts to my complacent comfort within the Adventist cocoon came in the 1980’s with the Mary Kay Silvers trials on equal pay for equal work, the Desmond Ford debacle at Pacific Union College, and the revelations of Walter Ray and others on the extensive plagiarism within the writing of Ellen White. The jolts have continued with the controversy over women’s ordination. All of this related to how the church treated its pastors, employees, and teachers, and how it had used Mrs. White as a substitute scripture. I remained an Adventist and a Christian.

However, Adventist and Christian dogma did not survive my explorations in recent years into the Biblical scholarship of the last 250 years, the cumulative and significant findings of science, the age of the earth, evolution, and origins. It is really impossible for me to understand how the Adventist church can continue to insist that the Genesis accounts of human origins are actual fact, and why we do not incorporate scientific fact into our doctrines and religions understanding. It is now obvious to me that we, the peoples of the world, have created our own religions and stories. I have come to prefer a spirituality that recognizes that humans are not special, but part of this whole world; that flora and fauna are all intimately connected.  The most important spiritual reality governing my life today is nicely captured in that ancient saying which precedes Jesus and states simply – do under others as you would have them do to you.

My closest ties are with my Adventist friends and community. I love the music of the Christian church. I do not intend to give these up. I admire the work that Adventists have done around the world to bring medical care and a better life to others. I love my years at PUC and would encourage my grandchildren to attend there or La Sierra University. I am confident that these institutions will foster in important values, lasting friendships, and close relationship with faculty. However, I am grateful for scholarship in Biblical Studies and in science that has given me freedom and perspective in my own spiritual journey.


  1. What a thoughtful and excellent essay, Kathleen. Had I gone straight through PUC, I would have graduated in 1962. I sometimes wonder how different my life would have been. Instead, I taught elementary school for a year (1960-61) in a one-room school near Prescott, AZ--a great experience! And, after returning to PUC for one term, I went into the army and was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. Another life changing experience, but one that required some emergence from the SDA envelope. When I returned to PUC in 1964, I found immersion in adventism less satisfying and less tolerable--and far more out of touch with reality than I had remembered. I married my adventist girl friend, who had become a 1963 graduate of PUC, and continued college. By the time I graduated from U of the Pacific, the marriage was nearly over, and had recognized how deeply flawed the SDA worldview was. I am so glad that I was able to find a more evidence-based path. I met and married Nancy. We have been married for 40 years. I have been fortunate. My graduate school years at UC Davis and my post-doctoral research at U of Washington were very fulfilling and prepared me well to face the real world effectively. My career as a scientist provided opportunities for travel to six continents and to observe wildlife and get to know people of many ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. I have few, if any, regrets. I value my SDA childhood and the religion I took so seriously. I still love the Christian music. I do not worship science, but I take it seriously, and I view evidence as a profoundly more valid foundation than revelation for understanding of life in the world. Thank you again, Kathleen, for your essay.

  2. Thank you, Joe, for your comments. I suspect that there are many like us.