My first visit to New York City
was in the freezing and snowy month of February. My mother and I traveled from Southern California out to the Big Apple to visit a Christian school called The King’s College that sent me a marketing email. I was going to compete for a scholarship to the school. It felt like a dream come true.
The city was completely different from my expectations-–the movies really didn’t prepare me for the gritty sidewalks, the smells of the roasted nuts and subway steam, or the people. We stayed in a cheap hostel that was so small I could touch both walls standing in the middle of the room. That first night we got $1 pizza from the end of the block and ate it in our hostel.
The next day I was going to give a presentation for the scholarship, so we headed down to the financial district and I walked into the King’s lobby for the first time. It was perfect. Right there on Broadway, across the street from Trinity Church and the grave of Alexander Hamilton, practically sharing a wall with the New York Stock Exchange was The King’s College. Since this was a prospective student visit weekend (called “Inviso”), the lobby was full of people. I was taken aback by how crisply everyone dressed. The students looked like walking J. Crew
advertisements, and as they strode through the halls discussing politics, philosophy, and economics, I felt like I had underestimated how elite this school was. What was I doing here?
By an act of God, I got the scholarship and leading up to the start of school, I learned I was placed into the House of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I was disappointed because I wanted to be in the House of C.S. Lewis. When move-in day came around this time my dad flew out with me to help me move in. I only had 2 suitcases, but I was glad he was with me. I was nervous. Walking towards 95 Wall Street, I could see a small crowd of guys outside the front door all wearing the same t-shirt and helping people move in. We walked up and a friendly guy named Jonathan
Harvill introduced himself to me and my dad, grabbed my suitcase, and took us up to the apartment I would be staying in. After that, we attended the welcome ceremony at King’s where all the House presidents stood on a stage and recited their House mission statements and welcomed the new members. I had to stand up in front of everyone when they called my name. I felt a little embarrassed because it seemed cheesy, but also felt like an important ritual. I was impressed with the House Creeds, but I was especially proud to be a member of the House with the longest and what I consider the best House mission: “Men of Bonhoeffer strive to persevere in righteousness, grow in integrity, live and die with conviction and serve with courage, steadfastly upholding a Christ-centered community dedicated to these ideals.”
The next day we had to participate in something called “The Great Race.” I ran all over New York City and learned I was extremely out of shape. Right after the race, Jacob Wilson, the president of Bonhoeffer, gathered all the sweaty guys together in a huddle and led the House cheer, yelling “VICTORY OR DEATH” to which all the guys roared back “DEATH IS NOT AN OPTION!” That was the first of many times I would cheer that mantra, for many different occasions: celebrating a sweet victory, holding fast together in a defeat, honoring a fellow Bonhoeffer’s efforts, or preparing ourselves for a new challenge. I later learned the origin for that cheer–it was the countersign for the American troops during the attack on Trenton in 1776 (when Washington crossed the Delaware). I loved how something as simple as our House cheer had its origins steeped in significant historical events. Most of King’s is like that. After the race, Jacob made sure we all knew to gather in the lobby of 95 Wall at 7pm so we could head out together to meet with the ladies of the House of Truth for an ice cream social.
At some point that first week, we had “House Dinner” which was being hosted at our Bonhoeffer faculty advisor’s home. He lived in Queens, and our house Helmsman, a sophomore named Michael Martinez, led the group of new guys through the subway so we wouldn’t get lost. On the way there I learned that though his name was Dr. Stephen Salyers, all the guys in the House respectfully referred to him as “Doc.” A few of the older Bonhoeffer’s had gotten to Doc’s place early and were already grilling up burgers and hot dogs. That night at dinner, I got to know a few more of the guys in the house: there was a cheerful guy who seemed ready to laugh or listen named James Bensen, a thoughtful Junior named Josh Hinen, and an eccentric upperclassman named Charles O’Brien. There were many others, and we closed the evening by listening and telling stories about the House of Bonhoeffer.
The final important event of that first week of school was the signing of the Honor Code. I was surprised to see in my new student packet that it was taking place at Trinity Church. I guess King’s considered this an important enough event that they rented out an incredibly historic and significant venue to host the ceremony. Business professional dress was required, and in preparation for the event, Michael took all the new guys to the Elevated Acre and talked to us about what the Honor Code was and why we were signing it. Looking around at the other guys while we listened to Michael, I felt grateful. All these guys were from different backgrounds and different places all over the country, and yet here we were sitting in a park in New York City listening about how we were about to enter into a commitment of honor together. It was exciting to be initiated into this community. Over the years, I often heard students complain about and ridicule the Honor Code. However, I always felt grateful to be a part of an institution that prized the concepts of honor and integrity so highly. As imperfect of a system as it is, the fact that it is baked into our DNA as a school demonstrates the institutional commitment to higher living and
Those first few months living in New York were among the most difficult of my whole life. My lowest point that semester was sometime after midterms when I had a 2.7 GPA (a far cry from the required 3.5 in order to keep my scholarship). I remember one night specifically when I had just gotten off work and it was past midnight in Herald Square on 37th street, I was scheduled to be back at 5:30am for the opening shift, and I didn’t feel l had any friends. I was exhausted, sleep deprived, in way over my head, and I sat down on the curb, called my mom and cried. It was pretty embarrassing.
I eventually adjusted to the hectic pace of NYC living, and really started to enjoy my time at King’s. Being able to walk down the halls and hear students discuss, argue, and debate Hobbes and Locke, De Tocqueville, Christianity, finance, the arts, and more was wonderful. The professors all encouraged office hours as many of them assigned enormous amounts of reading and writing. I felt stretched and sometimes broken down by the class workload, but I was always amazed at how much the faculty personally cared for me as a student.
When it came time for graduation, I felt like I had lived a lifetime at King’s. The number of professors, staff, and students that had poured into me was overwhelming. There was too much to be grateful for. The best example of how impactful the King’s education was for me is this: I was a Media, Culture, and the Arts student interested in pursuing theater, and yet Dr. Parks’ class on American Political Thought and Practice was so compelling that I filled my final open elective spot during my senior year with his 400 level course titled “The Federalist”. The
professors at King’s were so effective in their teaching that they inspired me to push myself beyond boundaries that I wasn’t even aware of. I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace last year for the first time and actually liked it. That never would have happened without King’s.
I mention all these memories because now more than ever I realize how precious my King’s experience was to me. I’ve been out of college for about 5 years now and have a little perspective on life–not much, but a bit more than I did at 18. I ended up working for King’s in Academic Affairs for 3 years and after being both staff and student I can confidently say this: there is no other college in the world like The King’s College. Nowhere else is the commitment to the truths of Christianity and the pursuit of knowledge and virtue so strong, all while maintaining an intimate atmosphere in the most influential city in the world.
There are many things that I miss about King’s: the roar of the student body in support of their classmates during Final Debate (or in opposition of the other side); students cheering and screaming in victory as their House hoists the House Cup; meeting new friends and professors while roasting marshmallows around the fire at Fall Retreat; the feeling of getting an “A” on anything since the classes were so challenging; walking past Dr. Hershey in the hallways who always said “hello” with a cheerful, friendly smile and who generously brought his telescope to Fall Retreat for no other reason than to share his love of the stars with others; walking through the Hall of Houses where all our banners hung, proudly displaying our House Crests; Professor Brenburg shaking every student’s hand and remembering my (and everyone else’s) name; Dr. Bradley assigning our idealized self letters and responding to them personally; Doc giving the House of Bonhoeffer the safety and peace of a warm and welcoming home in the midst of the busy city–also Doc being present at almost every House event and retreat, anchoring the soul of the House and King’s in a solid foundation of kindness; listening to Dr. Bleattler excitedly lecture as he guided students through the halls of the MET; the genuine kindness and intentionality that Professor Fotopulus showed me while I was in her class and beyond; the friendship of the Bonhoeffer Staff Advisor Nick Swedick, who was always available for a conversation or a laugh; Dr. Johnson talking about his beloved “pile of steaming (if you know you know) sitting in the sun” that he would reference regularly in class to jolt us out of our preconceptions of who YHWH is and how we view the Bible; the reminder that I will remember
for the rest of my life from Dr. Mark Hijleh, Provost of the King’s college during my graduation rehearsal: that there are so few truly solemn and sacred occasions left in this world, so whenever we have the chance, we ought to observe those moments and give them their appropriate weight and reverence. 
At King’s, there might be strongly conflicting visions and disagreements, but ultimately the community can still proudly put on their Kingsian gear displaying the King’s lion and strive forward towards virtuous living together. I love that our college is so different that we refer to things as “Kingsian.” I love being Kingsian.
The most important and obvious thing about King’s is her name: The King’s College. THE KING’S college. We are the college that exists because of and for Jesus Christ, equipping men and women in the pursuit of virtue. The best way I can think of honoring King’s is by simply invoking these powerful verses from our alma mater, which are sung at graduation:
’Tis not by gain of wealth of earthly treasure
Shall King’s be known; to these things be the praise
But we will give all thanks to God, our Father,
Who ever loves, protects and guides our ways.
And we His children hail our Alma Mater
Purple and White, her royal color raise.
Now in the City shines her holy witness,
Reason and faith in all encouraging;
Passion for truth across the generations,
Ever she stands for wisdom’s flourishing.
In royal radiance, faithful to her mission,
By grace of God His purpose furthering!
So to our school, though humbler her beginning,
Bound close in Christian love to her, we bring
Our pledge of loyalty and prayerful memories,
Pride ever strong in hearts that grateful sing,
Proclaiming victory o’er cares that press her,
Triumphant hail the College of The King!
Zeke Ward
Former House Scholar | House of Dietrich Bonhoeffer | Class of '18
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