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Q&A with May 2023 graduate

Joan Lavaki graduated from Abilene Christian University in May with a degree in ministry and vocation and will attend Yale Divinity School in the fall.

What drew you to your major in ministry and vocation?
I was actually a vocal music education major before I became a ministry and vocation major. I thought that music was the only thing I wanted to do with my life. However, as I learned more about myself in this new environment, I recognized I had a passion for social justice, teaching, learning and creating spaces where people could receive spiritual care and spiritual formation. I changed my major to ministry and vocation the spring semester of my freshman year. This change was also inspired by my family. My family has been involved in ministry, and I’ve grown up watching them care for people and love them with the love of Christ.

What has your experience been like in the College of Biblical Studies?
My time in the College of Biblical Studies has been extremely transformative. The Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry has given me the space to think critically and lovingly about the Bible and Christianity in both an academic and personal sense. I’ve built so many meaningful relationships with professors and peers that I know will last a lifetime. My questions about faith, my curiosities and my doubts have always been met with kindness and encouragement. And most of all, my time in the College of Biblical Studies has challenged me to learn how to step outside of myself and to use the privilege that is this education to uplift, love and advocate for others like Jesus calls us to do.

What were some of your most memorable experiences at ACU?
I have many memorable experiences from my time here at ACU, but what I want to emphasize about those memories is not what happened, but who was with me in those moments. The relationships I have cultivated with my friends, peers, and professors have become so meaningful to me. Participating in Sing Song, going to departmental chapel, singing in the rain with my friends at Ben Rector concert, studying in the library, watching the ACU men’s basketball team at March Madness from the football field, playing chess in the Bean – all these moments, whether they were mundane or exciting, were so special to me because I was surrounded by people I love. These last four years have been filled with so many hardships and celebrations and have shown how much we really do need each other. I thank God for the community I found here at ACU because I know that it is God’s love that has connected us all.

What is the Harvard Divinity School Diversity Explorations Program and how did it impact your college experience?
I heard about the Harvard Divinity School Diversity Explorations Program (DivEx) through an email from Harvard Divinity School (HDS) because I had requested more information about their graduate programs. The primary goal of DivEx is to increase the participation of members from groups that have been historically underserved or marginalized in the study of religion. I went to Cambridge for three days and connected with HDS faculty, HDS students, DivEx alumni and other students who are passionate about social justice and are considering a career grounded in a commitment to diversity and social change. I listened to lectures, toured campus, and was reminded by so many there that my perspective as an Asian Pacific Islander, as an immigrant and as a woman is valuable and that my voice is important and necessary. Growing up, I was often discouraged by the lack of role models who had backgrounds like my own. I did not think attending an Ivy League institution was possible for me, but shortly after arriving on campus, that thought was quickly demolished. I was encouraged and empowered as I spoke with HDS students, professors, and faculty who desire to create social change through their studies. This program gave me the opportunity to hear the stories of the different passions and journeys of students and faculty from all walks of life and also helped me solidify my plans for graduate school.

What are your plans after graduation?
After I graduate I plan on pursuing my Master of Divinity at Yale Divinity School in the fall. I hope to study Pacific Islander Theology and either continue my education and pursue a Ph.D. or go into formal ministry. However, my one true desire, no matter what I end up doing, can be summed up by Psalm 27:4 which is this: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (NIV). Whatever I do, I pray that it would ultimately lead me and those I encounter deeper in love with God.

May 17, 2023

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