#MillennialMonday Abby Michelini – Runner, PhD Student & Inspiring Professor

Abby Blog Post

Are we listening? Are we listening to culture and allowing conversation to ensue? Are we choosing to look like Christ or are we hiding away in our church? I’m honored to introduce you to a friend of mine and share with you her story, purpose and dreams. As you peer into her story, I challenge you to lean in and listen – listen to her questions, her doubts, her truth and her pursuit. Lean in and read about a millennial who left the church and found her calling. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Abby Michelini – an amazing world-changer and brilliant millennial who is seeking to make a difference in the lives of her students. She is a professor, PhD student and under 30 years old. I invite you to come close, read much and find encouragement through her story. Find purpose in her words and run hard after your dreams – accomplish much and dream a dream greater than your comfort and convenience.

How has running challenged/empowered you?

Running is a life force for me. It challenges me not only physically but mentally as well. When I reach my goals or keep going despite the pain, I surprise myself. It makes you realize that you’re capable of more than you know. Additionally, it’s an emotional outlet. As they say, running is cheaper than therapy.

What is it like going for your PhD in your 20s? 

It’s awesome. I love my field and I am truly blessed to have the cohort that I do. It is a lot of work as you know, but that’s just the nature of a Ph.D. 

What makes you want to reach your dreams at such a young age?

There is so much to know and so many ways of knowing. When you’re in academia, you are encouraged to find ways to construct and be responsible for new knowledge. I think I am doomed by my curiosity to the fascinating uncertainty of higher education.

What motivated you to study English?

It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment at which English became a traceable thread through my life. I loved reading as a child and began writing poetry in fifth grade. In high school, my English teacher, Ms. Lomell wrote some meaningful words in my yearbook and it was these words that would return to me when I enrolled in community college for the first time at 23. By then, fueled by a lifelong love of reading and writing, English just seemed like the logical choice.

What author inspires you the most?

I don’t have one particular author, but my contemporaries inspire me the most. Fellow professors who are publishing and pressing forward in today’s world inspire me to reach higher and press harder in pursuit of my own goals.

What is the one thing you want your classes to leave with? What is your greatest hope for your students?

Inside my classroom, I hope my students grow in their ability to analyze and interpret the world in meaningful ways, that they listen to other people and realize that there is much validity to be found outside of their own perspective, and finally, I hope that they see the value of accurate and articulate communication.

Beyond my classroom, my greatest hope for my students, as people, is based in my own experience with the world and is verbalized best in a poem by Mary Oliver called “Wild Geese.”

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting 
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Did you always want to teach? What is the greatest struggle/joy? 

No, I didn’t see myself teaching until deep into my major in college. Now, I can’t see myself enjoying anything as much as I enjoy teaching. Class discussions over a piece of literature, students who unveil new ways of intellectually interacting with the text, and pouring over a student’s paper, helping them to articulate their ideas are all highlights of my day. My greatest joy is learning from my students. My greatest struggle is probably organization.

How can the church reach the intellectual?

I think by encouraging difficult questions and welcoming a challenge, they will pique the interest of the intellectual. However, the intellectual, in turn, needs to realize that the element of faith is inherently based on belief beyond reason, or the idea that where reason stops explaining, faith goes on believing. This is a matter of choice and not of logic, though logic may lead one to faith’s shore, which is why the church should embrace intellectuals Click To Tweet, rather than circumvent their many challenges and questions.

Was it difficult growing up in a Christian home? Did you feel like faith was expected, because of your family’s beliefs?

The first time I asked Jesus into my heart I was three years old, and my parents rejoiced. I think that as a first-born child, the desire to please probably led me to make this decision, which I was too young to fully comprehend. For much of my immediate and extended family, their faith was (and is) real and they operate on the basis of that reality. Consequently, unbelief on the part of any children would have terrifying and everlasting ramifications. Growing up in that environment, I think belief is not only expected, but also almost automatic until adolescence. The difficulties that come with Christianity had a delayed effect on my life, so I wouldn’t say growing up in a Christian home was difficult.

What was the turning point of you deciding to leave the church?

I stopped going to church in between two major events in my life. First, my ex-husband and I found out that the missions group we were working for was misappropriating funds. About two years after that, I made the decision to walk away from our marriage. During the years of counseling and agonizing over the decision of whether or not to divorce, I tried several churches, but found the messages inside them unbearable. Other than a few visits and holidays, I haven’t been back since.

If you were given 10 seconds to tell the world one thing, what would you say? Why?

As Kurt Vonnegut says, “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – god******, you’ve got to be kind.” Because if we are all kind to each other, most day-to-day problems dissolve into the nothingness from whence they came.

How do we change the world without ruining its uniqueness?

Maybe we could readjust our focus from “changing the world” to seeing what the world wants to change in us. If we open ourselves up and say, what can I learn from others? What does the world offer me? Click To Tweet Then, the others might be willing to open up and hear us too.  Millennials are young. There is much to learn and much to discover.

How would you characterize good leadership? 

I believe the definition of good leadership is circumstantially situated. It depends on what is needed in any given situation. But, humility coupled with an ability to read and understand situations and people, with an undercurrent of flexibility seems like a good place to start.

 What advice would you give college students?

Keep going. You might not have a clear goal or direction yet, but that is going to shift and change over the course of your life anyway. The important thing is to keep moving in a productive direction. Everything else will fall into place.

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*All content provided through MillennialMonday Interviews is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy, perspectives or advice given by any/all interview guests. The posts do not represent the owner of www.colleenbatchelder.org, but represent the individual opinions and perspectives of millennials as a whole. MillennialMondays serve to converse with progressives, conservatives and skeptics. All contributors are invited to share about their organizations/purpose as well as their interaction with faith.