This story comes to you from LaFaye Tapper, an MA in Counseling Psychology student who is also an ordained pastor, serving alongside her husband in Everett, WA. We hope LaFaye’s story will be an encouragement as you navigate your own journey in (or thinking about) graduate school, with whatever questions, desires, and uncertainties that entails.

Mountain climbing was never something I would have considered, especially since I grew up in the Deep South among the bayous, mossy trees, and southern sweet tea. I never dreamed I would spend the second half of my life living in the Northwest, where the mountains are tall, the trees are evergreen, and the coffee is roasted to perfection. I feel blessed to have experienced both of these worlds. Here I am now—living in the Northwest and climbing a mountain, of sorts.

On a sunny, clear day in Seattle I gazed at Mount Rainier on my commute to school, and I pondered an idea that really resonated within my soul. Looking up at the majestic mountain, I saw its overwhelming size and beauty. I thought about how my graduate program experience felt very similar to the immensity of that mountain. Each class, essay, and assignment felt like taking another step toward its apex. Each step took me a bit closer to achieving a lifelong dream.

Almost 16 years ago, my husband accepted a ministry position in the Seattle area. We packed up our home, buckled up our five children, and made the trek across the country from Kentucky to Washington. This was not my first cross-country move, but I was hoping it would be my last! Serving in ministry alongside my husband for over three decades, I became aware of a passion inside of me to care for others. I can see now that God was planting a seed for further education within me.

Now that I am in my second half of life, I began to wonder what my future might look like since all but one of my kids are now grown and married. I had placed my dream of going back to school and pursuing an education in counseling and psychology on hold. After looking into several programs of study, I had not found the right fit (and I believe the right fit is necessary when it comes to life and learning). I needed something that worked for me, and then a friend of mine told me about The Seattle School.

I can wholeheartedly say that I have found that fit in this community! My goal was to start slowly and test the waters, because I was very insecure about my academic capabilities. After applying, I was invited to join the 2017 cohort as a Life Experience student. I remember the day I received that call and how excited I was. Then I also began to realize the huge step that I was about to take. Once I stepped into my first class, I thought how incredibly blessed I was to be learning and studying in such a beautiful environment with so many kind people.

Entering this graduate program has been life-changing for me as well as for my family. My husband, children, and church family have been truly supportive. We knew when I began this program that I would need to make some adjustments in order to be able to give this new venture the time and energy it required.

Reading has always come naturally to me, but when it comes to writing, I have experienced a great deal of emotional disruption as I have made the necessary changes to pledge myself to this graduate-level work. In fact, each step toward my graduate degree can be likened to climbing a mountain. One of my greatest struggles has been writer’s anxiety. I had no idea how overwhelming writing could be until I sat down to draft my first essay. I began to realize that I had a fear of failure that I had managed to ignore. Engaging this fear became essential to overcoming the anxiety and continue stepping upward. Another step in the climb to overcoming my anxiety has been taking the offered writing courses and gladly accepting all the help I could get from my professors, other students, and a tutor.

I have come a long way since that first essay, but I still face a struggle each time I sit before a blank computer screen. Yet even with all this anxiety, here I am contributing to a blog! My ultimate task has been learning how to embrace vulnerability while experiencing anxiety as I train to become a therapist. This requires less judgment and more kindness toward myself. Part of The Seattle School’s philosophy is that we cannot take others to where we have not been willing to go ourselves. This has been a constant encouragement to me as I have pursued the hard personal work, courageously faced the anxiety of writing, and engaged deeply in my life story in Practicum.

Even though I have faced many challenges along the way, I have been greatly encouraged and supported by faculty, staff, students, and alumni at the school. Faculty and staff want only the best for students. I have felt deeply cared for since I began my graduate work here, and I have found an incredible sense of belonging. I am so grateful for the friendships I have made so far and look forward to making many more.

My heart’s desire is to encourage “y’all” as you step into this space of disruption, beauty, hope, and redemption. My prayer is that, as a student, you also will find a sense of belonging and allow your true self to be seen by others. My hope and prayer are that this work prepares me to step into others’ stories with the love, empathy, and compassion that invites hope, redemption, and healing to those God places in my care.

I pray the same for you. Now let’s climb this mountain, step by step, day by day, one assignment at a time. Together, we will make it to the top.