By Valerie Malabonga
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?
We both started attending Coram Deo Academy in 6th grade and graduated together in 2015. Luke started at Coram Deo after being in the public school system and Leah had previously attended another classical Christian School.
2. Tell us what you are doing now. What are your majors? What degrees have you finished? What recent jobs have you had or are you doing?
Leah received her associates of science at the University of Southern Indiana to become a licensed Pediatric Occupational Therapy Assistant and has been working as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) for Hopebridge Autism Center since June of 2019.
Luke attended the University of Evansville where he earned his associates of science from their Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) program. He works as a licensed PTA in the rehabilitation setting and is currently finishing his bachelors in business administration and management from Western Governor’s University with plans to pursue a Masters in business.
3. What was your favorite aspect of Coram Deo?
Leah thrived within the small classroom setting and family atmosphere of Coram Deo. It is so rare to have genuine, positive and intentional relationships with teachers and peers. She remembers the ways that everyone cared for everyone. If you were older, you helped out with the little ones; and then when the little ones got older, they helped those smaller than them. A family atmosphere was fostered within the friendships made at Coram Deo, and those have continued long after graduation.
Luke’s favorite aspect of CDA was the smaller classroom size which allowed for a high degree of collaborative learning between both students and teachers. Luke remembers how the teachers were always willing to answer questions and look for ways to best help students grow both spiritually and academically.
4. My sources tell me that you started dating while seniors at Coram Deo. Did Coram Deo encourage healthy boy-girl relationships? In what ways? When did you get married? How is married life so far?
After six years of friendship, we started dating in February of 2015. After having been friends for so long, we were surprised by our mutual attraction! But we were entirely delighted! We are pretty sure that we are the only students to have ever dated at Coram Deo (at least up until 2015) and so we were a little nervous as to how our relationship would affect things at school. But it ended up being wonderful and we have so many amazing memories from that year with our friends and as a couple.
All of those years leading up to our relationship, the teachers and upperclassmen had modeled for us what it looked like to value boy-girl friendships that were centered around genuine care and love for each other first and foremost as fellow children of God. I think it was invaluable that we had already nurtured a friendship that was more familial than romantic before we entered into something more serious, and that was largely due to the influence of Coram Deo. We dated throughout college and got married in June of 2019 and it was the best day ever! Being married has been such a blast and we still can hardly believe it’s real!
5. What stands out about the other 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?
The friends we made at Coram Deo continue to be some of our best friends to this day. They stood with us at our wedding and are more like siblings than friends. There is a bond that develops between people when you are in a small school setting, and no matter how much time passes, that bond stays. We continue to keep in contact with many of our teachers as well and appreciate the deepening friendships with them now that we are adults.
Leah remembers that getting to be involved in the younger kids’ day to day lives at school was crucial in her decision to pursue a career in pediatrics. Eating lunch at their tables, reading to them during story time or playing with them at recess became a joy and sparked her passion for working with children. The inter-age engagement that happens at Coram Deo is not typical and is so valuable.
Luke also developed in significant ways as a leader and mentor due to the opportunities Coram Deo provided to help with chess club, basketball club, student council, and leading a guild. Knowing that there are little people watching the way you live your life really impacts the way you carry yourself and Luke grew immensely because of that.
6. In your experience, what has been the biggest advantage of your classical Christian education at Coram Deo? How were you prepared for the challenges of college and working life?
We both agree that time and time again we are grateful for the ways that a classical education trained us to be lifelong learners. Eventually, you will not have your teachers with you to frame the material. But Coram Deo developed the practice within us to ask hard questions and dig for truth, regardless of the area of study. Being able to apply a Christian worldview to any situation is something that we did over and over in school, and it transferred over to college and our adult years which we are so grateful for, since this world is a confusing place to understand without the lens of Christ as our Hope.
7. The stereotype is that classically trained students excel in the Humanities, but both of you are in the medical field. How do you think your classical Christian education at Coram Deo helped prepare you to be successful in your field?
We both had amazing science teachers in high school, which was a gift. The challenging classroom setting at Coram Deo helped us establish early on how to study well and work hard, even if it was difficult material or we were discouraged. Once we were in college courses, we saw so many other students who easily earned outstanding grades in high school but were now dropping out of classes because they did not know how to push through challenges and persevere with good study tactics. We may not be the smartest people in the room, but we are disciplined and know how we learn best which typically leads to success in all areas of study. We were passionate about our degrees and thanks to our education at CDA, we were equipped with the tools we needed to learn well.
8. The stereotype also is that classically trained students will take four-year college degrees, but you both went through two-year associates degree (with Luke doing an associates and a bachelors degree) route. Tell us about your experience. What advice would you give CDA students who may be more suited to taking this route versus a four-year college degree?
We were more focused on finding a field in which we could utilize our gifts, as opposed to fitting into a typical mold. For physical therapy and occupational therapy, there are really only two options: you can either get an associates or a doctorate. Since we were not ready to commit to 6+ years of college right out of high school, it made a lot of sense to start small and grow from there. We have always tried to stay open to the fact that we will go wherever the Lord wants us. For now that is in the medical field, but it could be that in the future we could continue our education in another field.
We would encourage students to not worry about the status of your degree, and instead spend your energy discovering what giftings and passions God has invested in you, and then pursue the post high school course that would best equip you for utilizing those gifts – and that could look so many different ways. There are innumerable creative ways to grow in this current time, many of which do not even include college. Don’t be afraid to investigate all of them and find what fits you best, even if it is a different route than everyone else.
9. 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?
Coram Deo nurtured a creative and critical way of thinking for Leah. As an occupational therapist, these two traits are highly utilized and continue to develop beyond the classroom. Luke relates especially to the idea of being a legacy leader as he pursues a future in management. The opportunities that Coram Deo provided for Luke to grow as a leader and mentor has greatly influenced his leadership style and passion for leading in Christ’s example. As Christ followers, our goal is to always live out our faith in every area of our life as a contagious Christian. Coram Deo taught us to be ever seeking Christ’s presence in all things and to see the world through the lens of His love and truth.
10. What is next for you or what plans do you have for serving Christ in the world with your gifts?
Only the Lord knows what tomorrow will bring, so we daily commit to continue living out our faith in whatever He places in front of us in all the big and small ways. Our prayer as a couple is that He would continue to use us in our workplaces, our church, our families, our community and wherever He would lead us. He has blessed us to be a blessing, and through His strength, we will continue to be faithful in the path He paves for us! We are so grateful for the many gifts he has given us along our journey, like our experience with the community of Coram Deo, and are so excited to carry the sweet aroma of His presence into the future He has prepared for us!
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