Students of SPU: Jungle of Wisdom

Window into the mind of social justice advocate, world traveler

Hailey Echan, Features Editor

Inspired by the books “Humans of New York”, the series “Students of SPU” was created to provide an opportunity for students to get to know other students. Seems simple enough, right? Well, these days it is not as easy as it seems. Between COVID guidelines on and off campus, most classes being online, and the divide between students’ political and religious beliefs, forming friendships is not as simple as it has been in the past. 

In a time of division, separation, and isolation it is now more important than ever before to hear people’s stories. There is power in a story. A person’s story is the essence of who they are. Not just their circumstances. Not just how they respond. Not just who has impacted their life. It is a combination of all of that and much more. Humans are complicated, messy, and intricate creatures. To say we understand someone based on one conversation or one of their beliefs is naive and ignorant. There is so much more. 

That to say, it is also naive and ignorant to think that we can fully know someone after hearing just one side of their story. However, it is a start. It is my hope that throughout this series, SPU students will not only get to know each other more, but also be inspired to hear others’ stories. Our lives expand beyond this campus. We interact with people each and every day whose stories we have never heard. Let’s change that. Rather than use our voices to drown out the others, let’s use our ears to give people a space to be heard. One person at a time, one story at a time.

Emily Stinson and a friend spending time together in a field of flowers. (Courtesy of Emily Stinson)

Identity is found in all sorts of objects, people, experiences, and more. Graduating high school and dipping yet another toe into adulthood comes with more questions than answers.

Sophomore Emily Kate Stinson knows where her identity lies now, but getting there was a process.

“Who am I? I normally go for the cliche words: optimist, student, traveler, lefty, artist,” Stinson said.

Though it may seem to be a simple response, it is the layers within it that make up the fabric of who Stinson is. The journey to identity and sense of purpose is never easy, but it always starts somewhere. For Stinson, the journey began with a search for one thing: wisdom.

For some, wisdom is something to be learned from experience. For others, it is something that either comes naturally or not at all. For Stinson, wisdom is something to be both collected and applied.

Since taking a gap year before starting college, Stinson has appreciated the value of what new experiences and other people can bring to the table. Stepping into a space of unknowns proved to be hard, but learning more about herself and those around her in those spaces has brought Stinson to where she is today.

“I wanted to go to college but I also didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do yet…My sister and mom had both taken a gap year, so I decided to do that too,” Stinson said.

Spending six months in Cuenca, Ecuador provided more understanding in what she should do in the future than what was to be expected.

“Not everyone goes into a gap year and comes out with a lot of clarity. But, why it was good for me was because they placed me in jobs that they thought I would be good at based on interviews and my personality.”

The time spent away from home and in a new environment helped her find a new perspective and fresh ideas for her sense of purpose. Stinson gives most credit to the program she worked with in Ecuador during that time. The work she got to do there opened her eyes to where and how she truly felt at home.

“They placed me in helping professions. I had done some volunteering before but not a ton. That was good because it’s not something I would’ve necessarily chosen for myself at the time,” Stinson said. “In the morning I worked with people with disabilities at a school…In the afternoons I would bus to a daycare and take care of a bunch of little one year olds.”

Realizing that helping people is where her heart belongs, there was no denying the sense of joy that came with being in a position of empowering those around her.

“It was so special. Every day, I was so happy.”

After her time abroad, Stinson began her years at Seattle Pacific University, so that she can one day fulfill her purpose.

“I was happiest in my life when in a helping profession. I came back to SPU and decided to double major in social justice/cultural studies and Spanish because I am going to try to get a master’s degree in social work after this so that I can move back to South America and do similar things but with more education.”

Emily Stinson and friends enjoy soaking in the fresh air high up in the mountains (Courtesy of Emily Stinson)

Specifically, Stinson wants to go back to help empower the women in South America. She is passionate about advocating and empowering those who are tossed aside by the culture they are a part of. 

“The culture in South America is really different. [In the United States] women have been empowered for an increasing amount of time, but there is still a gap between where we are and where the culture for women in South America is. I think that helping women would be really impactful,” Stinson said. “I was pretty much raised by a single mother so helping that demographic of people is really important to me.”

Stinson was able to gain wisdom during her gap year on how she fit into the world, but also how she could change the world for the better. Along the way she also collected wise counsel from all the different people she met that she is now able to apply to her everyday life.

“One of the things I have valued most about traveling is how many people you meet from everywhere…The more you talk to people the more you learn their bits of wisdom. It’s really important for me to take that wisdom and apply it to life.”

One specific person from her travels across South America still remains in the forefront of her mind.

“I met this really crazy toothless old man named Grandpa Wolf. He had so many good pieces of wisdom that I think about all the time. One of the things he said that I think about often is ‘seek as many ways as possible to get to know yourself’ which is cool to me because I think I was kind of raised with specific ways of getting to know yourself, but he was suggesting there are more ways to self-reflect.”

She has learned from Grandpa Wolf to enjoy learning more about herself in the process of also serving others. She deeply cherishes the lives of those around her because she knows that each person has wisdom to share.

“For me it’s just about trying to collect wisdom from different people that I meet, because everyone has their own little pieces of wisdom they’ve gathered, and then applying them to your life isn’t that hard if you have them on your mind.”

While studying to be able to better empower the women and people of South America, Stinson still devotes her life to lifting up and serving others. The desire to collect wisdom stems from a heart to serve. With the wisdom she gains, she chooses to share it and apply it to everyone she comes in contact with.

“It’s really important to me to serve the underdogs, the people who aren’t generally served well by society. It also wasn’t just me giving what I had, but learning so much as well.”