Embracing the unexpected

Israel Branham transferred to SPU and learned to reach for new opportunities outside his normal comfort zone

The year 2020 was the year of the unexpected. The unforeseen. The unpredictable. But for Israel Branham ’20, much of his adult life has been about learning how to deal with the unexpected.

In June 2020, Branham should have marched across a stage at Commencement wearing the gold honor cord of someone graduating summa cum laude.

Instead, Branham received his honor cord in the mail, and his graduation ceremony was livestreamed and posted online.

It wasn’t the first time he dealt with a disruption of his plans. Branham attended a small community college in Connecticut before his family moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2018.

“I had plans to transfer to a school in the northwest, but to be honest, SPU was not on my mind at the time,” Branham said. “I was more focused on programs offered at the UW, Western Washington, and other neighboring schools.”

When he looked at the offers and financial packages offered by the schools he was accepted into, nothing seemed aligned with his situation. Branham took it as a sign to “look elsewhere and not fixate.”

“If you’re willing to go outside your comfort zone — and it doesn’t have to be in a big or dramatic way — there are plenty of experiences that can help you learn new things about unfamiliar subjects, as well as about yourself.”

He applied to and was accepted by SPU and decided to major in art, as it aligned with his previous interests. “Sometimes it seems like SPU was chosen for me,” Branham said.

The process to transfer to SPU was efficient and seamless. Transfer advisers helped him remotely so that by the time he arrived on campus, he was all set to begin classes. Getting used to a new city, however, was more of challenge. He had lived in other urban environments before, but now he had to learn new neighborhoods and a new transportation system. “Getting off at wrong stops was not uncommon,” Branham said. “And with so many things going on at any given moment, I found it could be overstimulating at times.

“I quickly learned to appreciate the smaller, more contained, more personal feeling of SPU both inside and outside classes, especially when compared to the sprawling campuses and inner cities of the UW,” Branham said.

At a smaller university, there are also plentiful opportunities for the uninitiated. Theatre work was never on Branham’s radar, but when a part-time job presented itself at the McKinley Theatre on campus, Branham found himself working as a scenic painter and shop assistant for theater productions.

“During that time, I found a whole new application and outlet for my creative abilities and had some fun in the process,” Branham said. “If you’re willing to go outside your comfort zone — and it doesn’t have to be in a big or dramatic way — there are plenty of experiences that can help you learn new things about unfamiliar subjects, as well as about yourself.”

In another of life’s twists, Branham now works as an enrollment operations coordinator at SPU, while allowing his degree in art to quietly percolate for a bit. His advice to prospective students and students transferring into SPU?

“Be willing to change your mind in order to think about your goals in new ways, to make temporary compromises and even sacrifices,” Branham said. “If you’re a person of faith, you’ll understand that this can clear the way for God to operate and have something to work with. For me, SPU has proven to be an environment that has helped me on my way to discernment.”

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