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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Her name is Julia Kathleen Myhre . .

 . . .and she's now a graduate of Duke University.  About seven years ago, we first visited the Duke campus with Caleb, passing through on the LAST possible day for college tours as we were working our way down the coast.  Caleb liked Duke, but it was Julia tagging along who came away from the day saying "I want to go to school here."  When she decided to apply a couple years later, not all her high school team believed in her chances.  But one thing about Julia, when she makes up her mind, she can work and lean into the hard.  And so four years ago we were carting her belongings up three stories in a quaint but non-air-conditioned no-elevator dorm for her college adventures to begin.  She found her niche in the intersection of environmental policy, cultural anthropology, and global health.  She tested water quality in Alabama on an environmental justice research project.  She worked on the Duke Campus Farm towards a sustainable food chain, volunteered with senior citizens and church preschoolers, joined the leadership team for her Christian fellowship, catalogued rare seeds and studied the impact of grazing on indigenous plants in Jordan, studied Arabic and worked with an arts internship in Morocco, completed a comparative global health semester abroad in India, South Africa, and Brazil.  She played intramural soccer and tennis, camped out for Cameron tickets the year Duke won the national championship, made pottery, went camping and to the beach.  She baked cookies and encouraged younger students, cultivated friendships with multicultural beauty, drove hundreds of miles to be with brothers and other family.  And she wrote papers and took exams and came out with honors, in the top fifth of all Duke undergrads.

So today we wrapped up a weekend of celebrating this gift, the gift Julia has been and will be to the world, and the gift she received in this 4-year banquet of opportunities.  She grabbed them and worked hard to make the most of them, and we are so happy for her.  Person after person who had spent time as her teacher or mentor or friend smiled at us and told us stories of her impact.  She will be missed in Durham.

After a few family travels she'll start a Fellows Program in Greensboro NC, where she will be mentored in the integration of work and faith as she works part-time in her field of environmental action and food, takes theology classes, and volunteers in the Church of the Redeemer.  

We are grateful for the vast community of former teachers, team-mates, cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents, friends from Uganda and Kenya, soccer and tennis and basketball and volleyball coaches, church leaders, supporters who have all brought us this far.  Wish you could have all breezed through this weekend with us.  Here are some highlights:
  • Julia treated her grandmothers and her mom (me!) to a lovely lunch for an early mother's day.
  • Luke was on point, with logistics and icy drinks and cheer and help throughout the long weekend, keeping the focus on what-does-Julia-want.  Plus both grandmothers, my sister Janie, most of Julia's Biggerstaff cousins.
  • We put together a party for about 40-some people with a Costco run and some decorations at a pavilion on the farm where she worked.  She invited friends and their families to come out, and the atmosphere was lovely, bees and flowers and vegetables, abundant food and drink, conversations and a setting sun.
  • Parties for other friends where we dropped in to meet people, and another party hosted by the Duke Farm managers for the 5 seniors who worked there.
  • A church service at Blacknall, where Julia attended and volunteered.  Her pastor preached powerfully to the graduates, challenging them to pursue courage over clarity.  He talked about the disciples in the storm on the boat, and how most of our plans and lives do not move in clear and predictable directions.  To follow Jesus we need courage!
  • A Baccalaureate service where the Rev. Luke Powery (Dean of the Duke Chapel) preached another powerful, relevant, bold, hopeful message on the life of Jacob.  He talked about life in America, and challenged the students with the truth that life will bring wounds and difficulty and that is where we meet God.
  • A Departmental graduation with the Environmental Science faculty, where Julia received her diploma, and we met her advisor and enjoyed seeing the educational spaces and a reception with other students and family.
  • A dinner with grandmothers and a couple of her close friends at a hip restaurant with menu items we had to google to understand.
  • And of course, the main event, the massive commencement ceremony on a 90+ degree pounding sun day in the football stadium, where Tim Cook enjoined the graduates to not accept the status quo, to keep searching for better solutions.
Duke has been a provision of grace for us.  And so has Julia.

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