May 2011 graduate Harrison Dell, has worked as a youth and family minister at Downtown Church of Christ for the past seven years. Dell said his motivation for staying in Searcy was his wife, Kelly, his love for his work and his love for Kibo Midnight Oil. Dell said after graduating, he has found a special appreciation for Searcy’s low cost of living and the spiritual depth he finds among friends and others.
While growing in rich spiritual connections, Dell said he has also seen a troubling disconnect between Harding and the Searcy community, often because students are passionate about being a light in their community, but are not willing to make the small changes it would require. As a Harding graduate, Dell said he strives to be empathetic while also participating in the larger conversation within the community regarding Harding students.
“My advice to students … is be courteous at restaurants, volunteer in schools, pick up trash, don’t make messes where you go, don’t be loud and obnoxious,” Dell said. “It’s a lot of the stuff that’s right under your nose.”
A more recent graduate, Erica Valerio said she stayed in Searcy to finish her internship with Fellowship Bible Church, but plans to move in May to pursue a career in ministry. Valerio said in Searcy, she enjoys connections with friends, the low cost of living and small-town activities such as Beats & Eats and Friday Art Nights. Valerio said since graduating, she has observed the varying population between Harding’s student body and the Searcy community, especially groups that live below the poverty line. Valerio said she would like to see more efforts from Churches of Christ to unify with churches of other denominations to reach out and help members of the community who need it.
“I have grown in love and frustration,” Valerio said. “Even in that frustration, I have grown in appreciation for the commitment that Harding has to their student body and to their beliefs.”
Penny McGlawn left for about a year after graduation before returning to Harding. McGlawn is a 2002 graduate and Harbin hall residence life coordinator, who said she was immediately content with her family’s decision to move, because she now knows that Searcy is the place she wants to call home. McGlawn said she enjoys the close-knit connections and support she has found in friends and within the College of Education during her time as a student and a professional.
“What you feel as a student in terms of support, it can be that way on the other side as well, after graduation,” McGlawn said. “Just because you graduate doesn’t mean that the support goes away.”