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Alumni Interview Series: John Finley

Interview by Valerie Malabonga, CDA parent

1. Could you tell us about your time at Coram Deo Academy: In what grade did you start? How long were you there? What year did you graduate?

My time at Coram Deo was something else. I started in sixth grade and graduated while there was still a high school program back in 2017. In my six or so years I went from entirely socially inept to someone who could actually hold a conversation for over a minute without sweating bullets. The transition was definitely rough in my first year, though a little tough love from my peers and guidance from teachers made me at least closer to a respectable person. Honestly, I look back at those days and question how people could even put up with me… though it goes to show a friendship forged in fire can last through time. 

Through the thick and thin I had friends to help me, I had teachers who bent over backwards for me, friends who made coming to school just a little bit less painful. Those are some experiences that to this day I still look back at and am grateful that I had. 

2. Tell us what you are doing now. What is your major? What recent jobs have you had or are you doing?

I am currently studying full time majoring in Social Informatics (Social Informatics is a newer field and can be summarized as computer interaction and communication across the world). I already have a diploma in human computer interactions and am looking into a Master’s degree in the subject. I am also pursuing a minor in game design that may become a major depending on if I want to enter the field as a whole. 

As for what I’m doing right now, I’m taking too many credit hours is what I’m doing. Please send help!

3. What was your favorite aspect of Coram Deo

Easy. The people. I talk to friends from my high school days constantly, am still in contact with a couple of teachers and still have fun, laughs and conversations with them about the world. Honestly, I would have failed in any other environment. In my time at Coram Deo, my father was told he had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and had only a few years left to live.* The Science teacher at that time, Miss Nakatsuka, actually stopped class a number of times to help me through breakdowns and took the time to pray over me with the class. Better yet, my classmates didn’t even get mad at me for having a little more take home work because of the time loss. Sorry guys!

4. What stands out about the relationships you developed at Coram Deo? Are you still connected with the people you met at Coram Deo?  In what ways? How did your relationships make you the person you are today? 

Anyone looking at this who knew me at the time is going to laugh. Yeah, I said I’d never see them again when I left CDA. But here I am: in a Bible study with older CDA alumni and a classmate, playing video games with them, still having lunch with our class and sometimes a teacher once or twice a year. My dad said one thing that I honestly never realized about myself: I give my friends a little piece of my heart whether I realize it or not, and losing them leaves a hole I can maybe fill in, but never replace. 

As I was typing this, I received a message from former CDA classmate, Aidan Welch, saying happy late birthday. I guess that’s what it’s all about though. They taught me you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to be the best and brightest. Just care about your friends, the rest will work out. That being said, time to wish him a super late birthday too. Oops!

5. In your experience, what has been the biggest advantage of your educational background? How were you prepared for the challenges of college and working life? 

College, year one was a joke. I hate to be rude and I don’t mean to put my classmates and college down, but come on! A three-page paper should be done in at most a day. With a simple outline, I had it done with the time in class explaining the topics. 

Talking to my college classmates really made it clear that apparently the senior and junior thesis at CDA pushed me to points that made college writing trivial at best. For a working life, they expected a professional standard which was honestly already something I was used to at CDA. Having an education founded on logic absolutely made many college papers and other writing assignments extremely easy. 

6. The stereotype is that classically trained students excel in the humanities, but you are in the technology field. How do you think your classical Christian education helped prepare you to be successful in your field?

This is something I hear a lot, and I’m not going to lie to you, they’re not wrong. There’s going to be a lot going into the technology field that you likely won’t find in a classical education, but that you could find in another setting. What I can tell you however, is that the classical education I received has made entering the technology field a breeze. 

People look at computers and code and say, “Nah, that’s for smart people, I’m not smart, I can’t do that.” But to be honest, it’s a language. A very simple language at that. And sure, it can be hard, and this isn’t to say you can walk in and be a trained professional in 2 months. 

7. Coram Deo’s current “Portrait of a Graduate” highlights the phrases: Contagious Christian, Lifelong Learner, Creative and Critical Thinker, Compelling Communicator, and Legacy Leader. How did Coram Deo help you become any or all of these? In what ways?

Well I could write you a full list of the last 3 years, but I don’t think people want to read my autobiography. I’m going to be honest. I don’t think of myself as a leader, communicator, or Christian example, much less even a good or creative thinker. I would venture to say I was the bottom of my class by an easy mile. 

Though somehow, in college and at work, I ended up as a guild leader, on the design team on my current game and project lead on another. I don’t think I can honestly tell you where I picked the skills, or at least aura, to be a leader. But the example of my CDA teachers and peers is something that I have looked to, even to this day.

At CDA, I had men and women who showed me how to be a leader by example, peers who showed me what to do, and sometimes not to do, as a leader. If nothing else, they taught me that there really is no end to learning. Everyone who is under you, everyone who is over you, they all have unique perspectives and ideas that you and your colleges may NEVER have thought about, and you can never take that for granted.

8. What is next for you or what plans do you have for serving Christ in the world with your gifts? 

For me? I’m going to end up a nerd who somehow leaves his house even less than he already does to keep pushing letters into an Integrated Development Environment (IDE). As boring as it may sound, I enjoy it. Though, despite minimal contact, I will always try my best to live up to the Coram Deo shout: “I will be a blessing to those around me, and should I fail, I will do so nobly and with grace.” I’ve always said it should be changed to “and when I fail” personally. Failure is inevitable, you will stumble, you will fall. We all have, we all will. But even when I do, I will pick myself back up, decide what I can do better next time and, though I’ll never reach it, I’ll keep striving for the excellence of God. 

*John’s dad, David Finley, eventually passed away due to ALS on April 4, 2019.

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