By Jasmine Obeyesekere Fernando

Reflections on Vocation: A Mother’s Letter to Professors

Dear Faculty,

Thank you for following God’s call into academia, for devoting yourself to scholarship and for shaping young adult minds through your teaching.

This fall more than ever, I’m grateful for your redeeming presence in the universities and colleges where you serve. For the first time, not only am I (like the rest of our team) a cheerleader for your influence in the academy, but I am also a mom of a brand new college student, having recently dropped off my seventeen-year-old firstborn to begin her freshman year.  The transition has reinforced for me the importance of your role in forming the leaders of tomorrow.

As you settle into the new academic year, I’m curious to understand how you see your students. Even as you continue with the sameness of your research and service, I’m interested in the aspect of your work where you can look forward to teaching new groups of students in your classes, getting to know fresh faces each semester even if it is just for a few months.

Although students will undoubtedly drive you crazy sometimes, I imagine that you see these students as people entrusted to you by God to impart your wisdom and help shape their character and vocation. As the semester begins, I dream that you might pray over the names of the students who’ve registered for your classes. Perhaps you pray for individuals from time to time as you interact with them while teaching as circumstances crop up. Perhaps you pray for that conversation that will nudge your student towards God. As a mom, my heart would be warmed if I knew that each student has one teacher praying for them on and off during the semester.

As these new students begin living independently and taste young adulthood for the first time, I’d love my daughter and her peers to meet professors with wonderful qualities. I describe them below — they are attributes that many of you have already! But perhaps you’ll join me in hoping and praying for students to encounter professors like these:

Teachers who will appreciate the freshness and vitality that the young women and men in their charge will bring

For many professors this cohort represents the (nth) batch of freshmen they will be teaching, sometimes teaching the same material packaged in a slightly different way, familiar content that has perhaps begun to feel rather stale.  Instead of passing on their own tiredness and cynicism, I hope that they might inspire the class of 2027 with a love of learning, recognizing that their role as professor allows them to be the first to introduce their broad field of study to these students.  Will teachers influence our kids to love, hate, or be indifferent about what they are learning?

Teachers who will welcome a plurality of ideas where students don’t have to conform to the implicit or explicit preferred point of view

 I’d love for institutions to be places where students can be pilgrims searching for truth — where professors model civil dialogue, welcome difficult questions, and show students how to handle the discomfort of disagreeing with people who are in the same room yet continue to converse and build relationships as the semester moves forward.  Will teachers affirm and honor truth irrespective of where it comes from, without allowing their own preconceptions to cloud their judgement?

Teachers who will be interested in the students and accessible to them

I’d love the new adult authority figures in their lives to offer wise counsel and guidance - whether directly as academic advisors or indirectly through office hours or a timely word in class. Will teachers encourage first year students to explore their academic interests, natural gifts, and passions? Will they help students make good choices that will place them on a path to pursue life with purpose, use their training to serve the common good, and be savvy about the practical consequences of their choices? As freshmen adjust to their new environment and its accompanying stressors, will teachers be alert to signs of students’ struggles and direct students to appropriate services?

Teachers who will be exemplars of vocations of purpose and service

As the class of 2027 continue in their education, I would love for them to be attracted to the vocational lives of their professors, seeing in their teachers’ choices possibilities of how their own adult lives could unfold — not necessarily following the same paths but becoming aware of the kind of person they can become. What will conversations in and out of the classroom be about? Will the topics their professors research pique their interest? Will they see glimpses of their teachers’ vocational commitments outside the university?

My sentiments are bittersweet. Even as I miss my daughter, I’m glad she’s charting her own path in life at university. I’d love for her to make good friends, be welcomed into a Christian community, participate in activities she likes, and enjoy stimulating classes. I treasure the memory of sitting side by side with my daughter in the massive church teeming with freshmen and their parents at the start of her orientation earlier in the summer. At this service of welcome to the university community, I was encouraged by the vision her college administrators had for their incoming students. They were confident that the next few years in their school would shape their students in good ways, including giving them a sense of vocation.  This is my longing too, for my daughter’s cohort. Through their experiences and interactions at your institutions, may each sense God’s call on their lives.

Thank you for answering God’s call to academia and being the kind of professor I’d like my daughter and her peers to meet. I pray that God will renew your sense of vocation and enable you to flourish as a teacher, scholar, and servant leader.  I pray that you will be encouraged as you remember lives you have already impacted as an academic. I pray that God will equip you to keep impacting a new student generation in fresh ways. I pray that you will find joy in delving into deep study of your field and sharing your knowledge with your colleagues and students. May the Lord satisfy your heart as you serve him in the university world.

With appreciation,


About the Author

Jasmine is WSAP’s book club host and vocation specialist. She hails from Sri Lanka and has a thirty-year relationship with its national university ministry, the Fellowship of Christian University Students (FOCUS). She has also been involved with InterVarsity for twenty years. She has a BA (Hons.) in English from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, and a MA in International Relations from Syracuse University. She loves writing about theology impacting real life and enjoys British, Korean, and Chinese drama. Jasmine lives in upstate New York with her professor husband and two teenage children.

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