Through the window
I could see traffic on 34th Street and people hurrying in the dark under umbrellas. Inside Norah Jones was playing and the apartment was cozy and peaceful as I got ready to meet other prospective students for dinner. Someone stopped by to visit the girl I was staying with and took time to talk with me as well. The next day was the Founders scholarship presentations. Even though it was a competition, there was a friendly feeling in the air.
A few weeks later I visited again and the students I had met remembered me. They had an unhurried attitude that contrasted with the city around us. It was becoming clear that this was a special place and it was actually a place for me. New York was the opposite of what I had hoped for in a college – a pastoral academic setting with a “study tree” to sit by. But somehow I felt at home at King’s.
“Look around, because the person you marry may be in this room,” said Stan Oakes on the first day of new student orientation. My new roommates and I giggled and rolled our eyes. Immediately after the session ended, my mom introduced me to the student she’d been sitting by: Mark Thorne, a surfer from New Jersey with nose-length blonde hair. We started dating later that year, and he is now my husband of 15 years.
I was on summer break studying French in Montpellier near the Mediterranean when I got a surprising email – I’d been picked to lead a multi-day event, mandatory for all students, called “Interregnum.” Whereas previously these days in the college calendar were for random field trips around the city, Peter Wood, the provost, wanted it to be an in-house event where we all focused on a particular theme. This year’s theme was “difficulty” and the book was Pilgrim’s Progress.
Dr. Wood had been my professor in a course called “Rhetoric” where he had us write weekly op-ed-style papers and present them to the class. After reading the paper (which was also projected on the screen for all to see), we were to stay at the front and hear criticism from each classmate—no compliments allowed.
I had come to respect Dr. Wood and the “speaking houses” he had developed among the faculty. The competitions he held between faculty speaking houses became the model for that year’s Interregnum with the student body. The format was the basis for a number of subsequent years as well. In addition to traditional speaking competitions such as debate, we had topic hand-offs and random theme debates. At the kickoff open mic night, students sang and did stand-up comedy on the idea of difficulty, and Dr. Wood himself performed an original rap about sinking in the Slough of Despond.
The lead-up to the spring Interregnum was a stretching experience as I tried to make a mandatory event fun and interesting while satisfying the directive of the college and provost. The other house scholars and I founded our own speaking groups to make public speaking practice part of the college culture. We hand-picked people to join and met weekly.
I learned the meaning of embracing “difficulty” during those days – balancing my duties as a student with part-time work, house leadership, church, relationships with friends, family, and my soon-to-be fiancé. I didn’t do it all well, but I gained new perspectives and bonded with those around me.
I even gained a yearslong mentor. After graduation, I joined the staff of the National Association of Scholars, where Dr. Wood – Peter – was my boss for over 10 years. He continued teaching me how to write and speak and gave me national platforms to do so.
Today I still live and work in the New York area. Mark and I love sailing as a family hobby with our son, and the city skyline along the Hudson River never gets old to us. Mark and I work together to serve privately owned companies and nonprofits as an extension of Mark’s work with his long-term mentor, another King’s professor, Phil Clements. I will always be grateful for the transformative role King’s has played in my life. Finding a home in the middle of the biggest city in the country is the last thing I expected, but it feels clear that God has called me here. And none of it would have happened without The King’s College.
Ashley Thorne
Former House Scholar | House of Margaret Thatcher | Class of '07
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