Northwest Nazarene University Revisited: Reflections on Community from a Golden Grad

In 1968, I graduated from Northwest Nazarene College (now University) in Nampa Idaho. In the next fifty years, I became a teacher, entertainer, professor, consultant, speaker, and author, (which is more information than any human being should be allowed to know about Allen Johnson).

While at NNC, I observed, experienced, and subconsciously integrated a college principle into my life. That principle was a commitment to community. Consequently, all my work has been guided by a passion to serve—to bring people together, to deepen their awareness, to move them toward mindfulness.

On my return to NNU as a golden graduate, I was thrilled to find that the university’s zeal for community had not diminished. That realization jumped out at me and grabbed me by the throat wherever I turned.

During my three-day stay, I made it a point to seek out and talk to young NNU students. To each one, I posed the same pivotal question: What are your feelings about your experience at NNU? Their sentiments became quickly predictable: “I love the sense of community. The classes are small, and the professors are caring. We are a family.”

When the alumni went to a small chapel on campus to reflect on who we were and who we hoped to be, we sang two venerable hymns. I was swept away by the harmony and power that reverberated in my chest like a bass drum—so stirring that I surrendered my own voice to be filled with the blend of love, gratitude, and, yes, community.

The late-night conversations with former NNC classmates were, in essence, the definition of community: a covenant one with another to be transparent, empathic, and nonjudgmental. The conversation cycled upward like a spiral staircase—disclosure kindling understanding followed by even deeper disclosure. The friends we had not seen for fifty years told their stories freely—their greatest joys and most challenging tribulations—all with uncommon honesty. Then they listened to stories from other classmates—not to find fault or persuade, but to truly understand their pathways to faith and reason.

I felt the same sense of community to the power of ten at the 2018 graduation ceremony in which we, the class of 1968, participated by marching with the young graduates. The entire gymnasium rumbled with euphoria, pegging the gauge of love and community. It was a lovefest.

Even the commencement speaker, Dr. Stephen Shaw, NNU professor of political science, mirrored the covenant of community that the university holds sacred. He called for humility, inclusion, diversity, the tumbling of walls, and the building of bridges. At the heart of it, he was a fervent champion for community.

When I walked on the campus—especially early in the morning or late at night—with only my thoughts for company, I felt a swell of nostalgia. It had been fifty years since I walked the campus—scrambling to class, the student center, the library, play rehearsals, or Saturday night dates. Suddenly, my student days did not feel like a half century of ancient history; they felt like yesterday. How was that possible? How did time reverse itself? The answer struck me like a new paradigm, first ignored, then finally understood for its wisdom and simplicity: Community has no expiration date. I was not shackled by my age for community was as real in 2018 as it was in 1968. In a way, walking the campus was like time travel—only the excursion did not take me to a specific date; it took me to a timeless way of being. It transported me to community, and I was young again.

Today, my theology is no longer strictly Nazarene, but my principles are. NNU and I hold the same sacred values of love, peace, tolerance, understanding, forgiveness, and community. That is our legacy. Moreover, we garner and cherish the same outcome when we are faithful to those principles. That outcome is joy. Not happiness; happiness is short-lived. But joy! Joy is an awe-inspiring, uninterrupted flow of transcendence.

That awareness is an ageless truth that this old alumnus is willing to shout like a full-throated teenage Nazarene chorister: “Yahoo! Let the joy roll like thunder!”

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