The early training I received at Eastern Christian provided me with a solid foundation for my subsequent career in academic medicine – not just training of the mind, but also molding of the heart to want to be of service in God’s world in some small way.
I am a member of the third generation of my family to have benefitted from an Eastern Christian education. My grandfather, Arthur Steensma, graduated from Eastern Academy in 1936. The school system was so important to him that he later served on the ECSA Board of Directors, and when he was in his 80s, he donated his prized geology collection to the high school – a collection he started accumulating during walks home from the North 8th Street school in the 1920s, which took him past a quarry on the edge of Prospect Park. My father, Peter Steensma (ECHS class of 1965) also served on the ECSA Board, and both of his sisters likewise attended the school system. I graduated from ECHS in 1988, as did both of my sisters, Jennifer (class of 1992) and Faith (class of 1996). I might have been the fourth generation of my family affiliated with EC, but my great-grandfather, Yske Spyksma, who had been a school teacher in the Netherlands, was turned down when he applied for a position at the Riverside Christian School in Paterson, shortly after he had emigrated through Ellis Island in 1912 and settled in Northern New Jersey. Still, Yske valued Christian education, and at least one of his daughters attended Eastern Academy.
After graduating from EC, I went on to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I majored in physics and astronomy and also did pre-medical coursework. In 1996, I received a medical degree from the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, and then moved to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for an internal medicine residency and specialty fellowship training in hematology and medical oncology. Following completion of training, I joined the consulting staff of Mayo Clinic and the faculty of Mayo Medical School, where I teach, conduct research, and care for patients with leukemia and related bone marrow disorders. With the exception of two years spent as a visiting research scholar at the Institute of Molecular Medicine of the University of Oxford in England (2002-2004), my wife and I have lived in Rochester now for 13 years – but that is about to change. In September 2009, I will leave Minnesota to join the leukemia group of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the faculty of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.
The early training I received at Eastern Christian provided me with a solid foundation for my subsequent career in academic medicine – not just training of the mind, but also molding of the heart to want to be of service in God’s world in some small way. I have many fond memories of elementary and secondary teachers who were skilled, compassionate, and committed to their students. The best teachers managed to keep us constantly aware that the work of learning was critically important, because they were busy preparing us for a life of service to others. These outstanding teachers also reminded us that to be truly thankful for whatever blessings and gifts we might have received meant using those gifts in whatever corner of the Kingdom we were called to.
I sometimes wonder if good teachers know just how influential they actually are. Former students are a little like the ten people described in Luke 17, who were cleansed of a skin disease by Jesus: only one of that lot made the effort to go back and say “thank you” to their healer.
Another special aspect of EC is that students’ parents need to care enough about the type of education their children receive to make significant monetary and other sacrifices. I am certainly grateful to my own parents for forgoing the trips to Disneyworld (I didn’t get there until I was 32 years old, and that only happened because of a slow day during a medical conference in Orlando…), newer model cars, and other luxuries to pay for a Christian day school education for their three children. My parents’ sacrifice provided an excellent example, and it certainly inspired me to get the most out of my EC education, even to the point of being impatient with the rare weaker teacher who wasted class time.
My own children have attended Schaeffer Academy in Rochester, Minnesota, a “Classical” Christian school named after Francis Schaeffer, a theologian, philosopher, and Christian apologist who founded the L’Abri spiritual community in Switzerland. I first read about Dr. Schaeffer in Agnes Fisher’s excellent English class during my senior year in high school at EC. However, if we lived in New Jersey, I imagine that my daughters would become part of the Eastern Christian “family” as well. A good education matters, and I was blessed to receive mine at EC.
David Steensma, MD