What Adventist Schools Have Taught Me

Education day, Pine Hills Academy, Auburn, May 15, 2004  


Last weekend, Norma and I were in South Lancaster, Mass, for the 117th annual commencement weekend at Atlantic Union College.  We walked over the old paths, saw again our two homes, and thought about all that has happened in the past 61 years—for us, it all began in South Lancaster and the Adventist school system.                                                                                    


The decision to attend a year in South Lancaster Academy and then Atlantic Union made all the difference back there in 1943.  A couple of years before, Mother and I had joined the Adventist Church after the persistent witness of an old German lady in her 80s who lived next door.


Sr. Scherer, who barely spoke English, week after week, crawled up the back steps of our apartment building and left the magazine, Signs of the Time. The magazines piled up but eventually we began to read them, something about a Saturday Sabbath and lots of prophecy. 


I remember the Sabbath when I decided between playing with my baseball team in the state championship in Boston or going to that little brown church in Springfield, Mass.  I went to church that Sabbath morning and never looked back.


The local pastor began to work on me and my parents, urging me to finish off high school at South Lancaster Academy, about 70 miles away.  This was wartime and gas was rationed along with about every else.  On top of that, the owner of the business where my Dad worked promised that he would sponsor me to a college career at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Penn. You can guess what my parents were thinking!


But the pastor and the Lord prevailed and off we went that September day in our small, blue Willys car to South Lancaster. First shot, the dorm was in terrible condition.  Money was scarce during wartime.  The bathroom walls had holes punched into the plaster and it all looked very dreary to everyone except me.  My father wanted to get me in the car and go home.  Not a good situation.  The Lord helped me to say the right words and so he relented.


That began those wonderful years of maturing where I didn’t have to play baseball on Sabbath and where the atmosphere was just plain exciting and rewarding to a young teenager.  South Lancaster Academy and Atlantic Union College were exactly where the Lord wanted us to be.


What made the difference?  We were blessed with teachers who knew their Lord.  We saw it in the classroom and in their homes. We could not escape their concern for academic excellence.  My Greek teacher was fond of giving out “double F’s” now and then.  I still remember the final exam in a senior theology class—the teacher wrote the question on the blackboard: “Define supernaturalism.”  No true/false exams in those days.


But we learned a few things outside of the classroom.  We learned how to treat others when they made mistakes.  I remember very vividly one day in the President’s office along with a few other boys. The Sabbath afternoon before, several of us were looking over Thayer Mansion, a truly majestic landmark to this day, now owned by the college.  Of course, the doors were locked.  But on a back porch, a small door for a passageway, about five feet off the floor, was unlocked.  So in we went.  We were dazzled by the furniture, woodwork, flowing staircases.  After probably a half an hour, out we went the way we came in.  Never saw anyone.  But someone must have seen us, or maybe one of the boys could not contain himself and had to do some bragging.


Back to the President’s office.  We didn’t know it at the time but he was in close negotiation with the owners and they did not want to sell to the college.  We soon discovered that we were in deep trouble.  The more I thought about it, the more it sunk in, big time.  I will never forget how tough we had made it for the president as well as ourselves.  We should have been dismissed from school.  But it was our first prank and we got off with much mercy—for two weeks we were campus bound.  About 23 years later, I was president of AUC, and my president of the 1940s was on the College Board—one of my closest friends of all time.  When we began planning for the erection of a modern library, I asked him if he would mind if we named the new library, the G. Eric Jones Library.  And so it stands today, one of the most beautiful libraries on any campus in America today.  For me, as I walked around it several times last week, I thought of a great man and how he treated several stupid boys.


My extra-curricular education continued.  One summer day I was working two jobs—one in the College Woodworking department where we made furniture for the New York market, and the other, helping the farm bring in a cutting of hay for our large dairy.  I was driving the big Farmall tractor with those huge wheels.  The only problem was that the throttle was a lever on the steering wheel and for days it had been broken off.  I had to reach into the steering post to grasp the broken lever to regulate my speed.  I remember the corner well.  A large Maple tree lined the street. I kept reaching for the lever as I tried to negotiate the curve.  I thought I had it made but the big right wheel caught the tree and I landed on the road, still sitting on the seat, the tractor in two pieces.


You can imagine the kind of publicity this made.  But no one knew who the driver was!  I had made a hasty exit, changed my clothes, and went to the business office completely undone.  I had an excuse but it didn’t sound so great when the only tractor that could haul the big wagon was in two pieces.  War years!  No extra money to fix it and parts were scarce.


I will never forget the business manager, Bob Cone. He sat back in his chair, folded his arms, and smiled, “What happened, Herb?”  I could not think of anything I could say or do that would erase the awful position I had put him in.  Bob Cone showed me how to treat others ever after who were in terrific jams.  He let me know the cost of repair but he also let me know how to restore some confidence in a shaking boy who was traveling too fast for his equipment.  That too led to a lifetime of warm, close friendship.


Adventist schools!  Where else does one find and keep lifelong friends—“old friends are the best friends.”  Some of us still call one another periodically, many have passed on.  Something else happened to us at South Lancaster—we learned the beauty and purpose of the Sabbath day.  Every Friday sundown to this day is a very special, holy time for Norma and me.  Those students who came from secular schools to South Lancaster discovered the rhythm of the week, the mystery of Friday night worships, the Sabbath afternoon spiritual activities, ah memories!


What else did Adventist education do for us? It formulated questions and answers that I would never have thought of anywhere else.  Pine Hill students, here are three of those questions. They are worth the cost of tuition:


  1. What is more important, where you want to be in 5 years, or where you want to be 5000 years from now?  The answer to that question will determine the kind of person you will marry and the kind of life work you choose.  In fact, that question will affect what you plan to do this evening, how you spend your spare time, what kind of personal discipline you have regarding your health, and the kind of intelligent effort you put into your class work and the supreme importance of making Jesus your best friend.  Megacept: Character determines destiny!

2.  What is the highest responsibility every man, woman, and child has, no matter how old they are?   When it first dawned on me, years after my college years, I felt like I had climbed Mt. Everest.  Everything became much clearer and my life was never the same. Listen to megaconcept #2  found on p. 329 in the most profound book every written, Christ’s Object Lessons:  “Self development is our first duty to God and man.”  How you ponder that simple concept will directly affect what you eat, where you spend your leisure time, the kind of friends you have, what kind of TV you watch, the increasing skills in whatever line of work you choose.  You have nothing really to offer anyone unless you have truly built into your system a habit of disciplined excellence and a habit of making Jesus your best friend.

  1. What is the purpose of the Adventist School?  The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Megacept #3: Adventists do not belong to a church but to a movement. We are not here to perpetuate ourselves and to build religious empires. We are in this world to run out of business.  Jesus said that He has gone to prepare a place for honest seekers and doers of truth—and He is preparing a people for that place.  Don’t let Him down! 


A few days ago a 27 year-old Army Ranger died in Afghanistan.  He died helping his fellow Rangers out of an ambush.  .  Pat alone was killed.  Who was Pat?


Two years ago he was offered $3.6 million to play another year with the Arizona Cardinals football team. But he enlisted in the Army, quickly made the cut for a Ranger, served in Iraq, returned to Fort Lewis, Wash., and then shipped out to Afghanistan.  Well-known in the football world, a hero to anyone who knew him, he avoided publicity and speeches.  He graduated from college with a 3.84 GPA. In 3 ½ years, he completed a four-year program in marketing at Arizona State University. He was planning on a law career after his volunteer years in the army. 


But he died fighting for a cause that was bigger than a $3.6 million contract, bigger than the popularity of a superstar, bigger than a life that few others could ever hope for.  He died like he lived, thinking of others before himself, living out a life of self-development for the good of others.


How much of your life will you lay down for the good of others? “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).  And you don’t have to die to lay down your life for your friends!


What will you give up in order to fight for the honor of your heavenly Father? “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Mark 8:36).


These are answers that a genuine Adventist education will provide.  Its cost is a trifle when we remember that the main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.


 © 2004 Herbert E. Douglass.  All rights reserved.  douglass@starstream.net