Learning to Savor the Westmont Community

by Matt Thomson ’97

When I went to Westmont, I was completely unaware that what I had there was special. Growing up in Utah, I didn’t have a true church family, and going to public schools, I didn’t understand Christian education. My time at Westmont shaped my understanding of Christian community and Christian education, and I assumed that Westmont was the norm.

I was overwhelmed my freshman year: I didn’t like the weather, I didn’t understand the community, I missed home, and I wanted to transfer. My sophomore year was a blur as I eased into the Westmont way of doing things. As a junior, I finally understood Westmont, and I spent a semester in San Francisco on the Urban Program, the most instrumental experience of my Westmont career.

I’d do a myriad of things differently if given the chance to relive my senior year. I moved off campus, and I wish I’d been more intentional about staying plugged in to the Westmont community. I was so excited that I didn’t have to go to chapel any more that I didn’t. Fifteen years later, I find myself downloading as many chapels as possible.

I now know that my Westmont experience was exceptional. Nowhere else will you have an opportunity two to three days a week to receive biblical teaching from some of the country’s best spiritual minds. Nowhere else will you learn how to worship with your mind at that level. We think of worship as music, but we’re asked to worship with all our heart and our mind. Chapel gives you that chance, and I bypassed some golden opportunities by skipping that year. With my current work and family schedule, I’d give anything to set aside a couple of hours each week to soak in high-level Christian thinking.

I also stopped attending Vespers on Sunday nights; it was too inconvenient to make that drive. Not once since I graduated have I had an opportunity to gather with several hundred like-minded, same-aged peers to worship God in song. I didn’t realize how revitalizing that time was—how essential it was for grounding my week—until I lost it. I attend a wonderful, multi-generational church with a great group leading music, and I value that, but 25 minutes on a Sunday morning isn’t the same as an hour or more on Sunday evening. I think worship is more sincere when it costs you something. I’d love to have those Sunday nights back now.

I had no idea how critical my senior year was for leadership training. I had an opportunity to lead a lot of young guys on the cross country team, and while I did an adequate job, I could have been more intentional and learned how to be a servant leader. I led because I was the lone senior, and I felt I had to. I didn’t lead out of love for those guys or with any true sense of purpose. Over and over in my life now, as a father and husband and small business owner, I realize how many lessons were set at my feet. I wish I could have learned them from Coach Smelley in a relatively non-critical environment like running, rather than on my own in the critical areas of marriage and careers, both mine and those who work for me. I could have been so much more intentional about learning to be a servant leader, and that is my biggest regret.

Westmont is truly unique, and I wish I had taken more advantage of what I had there. For example, I ran because it was what I did. I went to practice because that’s what you do when you’re on a team. Today the idea of setting aside a few hours each day to run with a dozen or so true friends seems remarkable. If I can get in three or four 30-minute runs a week, I’m feeling pretty good. Even that means I’m sacrificing time at work or with my family or taking care of my house. I always assumed I’d run my whole life (my license plate even reads RUN4LYF) and stay fit my whole life. I never dreamed I would shoot up to 207 pounds (I’m back down to 180) and not run for months at a time.

I have a good life; I like where I am and wouldn’t change much. I just wish I’d experienced and savored the Westmont community more my senior year. I wish I’d sought out the underclassmen at chapel, sat with them and talked about chapel on our runs. I wish I’d gone to their rooms, pulled them away from their studies and taken them to Vespers. I wish I’d had less pride and more appreciation for the school and the amazing minds around me.

Finding a Christian community, a support group when your marriage gets tough, when work isn’t going well, when your child is in the hospital, when you need to get priorities back in order and make sure you’re relating to God and not just going through Christian motions is so much harder than it was at Westmont. I didn’t know how good I had it.

Matt Thomson ’97 is the owner and managing broker of Keller Williams Realty in Gig Harbor, Wash., where he lives with his wife, Kimber Tolar Thomson ’01, and their two children.

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