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Post by Nathan Samayo

Editor’s Note: This week at HDS we are hosting our annual Diversity and Explorations (DivEx) event, which is a 3-day introduction to Harvard Divinity School and the programs we offer. DivEx is geared towards current undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in exploring divinity school. In this post, former DivEx participant and current HDS student, Nathan Samayo, reflects on his personal and academic background and how participating in the DivEx program has impacted his journey at HDS. 

What a critical time it is to be applying to Harvard Divinity School. A contentious election creeps around the corner whose result could either continue America’s dissonance to its long history of anti-Black racism and xenophobia, or a result that will, as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “let our democracy live another day.” We see on our local and social medias the uprisings from marginal communities and allies who denounce state-sanctioned violence, white supremacy that has seeped into every facet of public life, and the legacy of colonialism that altered the land that white America now occupies. We are becoming products of a historical moment where a pandemic has and continues to alter our ordinary lives, bringing to light how broken America’s systems of education, economy, and healthcare have been operating. All these issues and realities ask a similar question—what is at stake? What values and ethics guide us as we advocate and protest for new tangible conditions in hopes of a reconciled world? These questions will be asked to you if you decide to come to Harvard Divinity School, a community committed to transforming you into the change agent you want to be. 

Photo Courtesy of Nathan Samayo

My name is Nathan Samayo (he/him/his). I was born on the island of Guam and raised in the city of Tacoma, Washington. I am grateful that I was able to get a full-ride scholarship to a small liberal arts school two hours away from Tacoma as my initial access to higher education, especially as a first generation college student. Unfortunately, the college I attended closed and I lost my full-ride scholarship. A month later, my mother and grandma died. My life trajectory changed when I transferred to Seattle Pacific University where I served as a multi-cultural worship programmer, Student Body President for two years, and a pastoral intern at a large multi-cultural church, Quest. I then graduated with a degree in Sociology, Mathematics, and History. 

My last year of undergrad, I got a call to be a minister. My vision of ministry is grounded in total integration with the community. I make that very clear because I think the way the Evangelical Church in America has operated historically has been rooted in a false narrative that it exists outside of politics, issues of injustice, and many other facets of public life. At Harvard Divinity School, I am a candidate of the Master of Divinity program studying religion, literature and culture and the ways we can experience compassion and healing across cultural and religious divides. I will be pursuing a Ph.D. in the study of religion unpacking the ways that the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible experienced healing from generational trauma after being enslaved in Egypt for 430 years. I now ask the question, “how may Black, Indigenous, and People of Color experience healing from generational trauma that was inherited and been built in their bodies? What does healing look like politically, economically, and socially after the legacy of colonization, genocide of Indigenous people, and slavery?” Throughout my time studying at Harvard, I have also been going through the United Church of Christ ordination process and I serve as a youth minister at a UCC church leading community activism projects for youth and young adults.  

Participating in Diversity and Explorations was the highlight of my time applying to graduate programs. I applied to DivEx simply for the fact that I knew nothing about seminary or divinity school, but knew that Harvard Divinity School is a place where academics and spiritual practitioners challenged the dichotomy of the sacred and profane. As you attend different online panels, admissions sessions, or even DivEx, it is an invaluable experience to journey with other students, especially from underrepresented backgrounds, learning how the study of religion may be the avenue in which you pursue your academic and career endeavors. Throughout my time applying to Harvard Divinity, I discovered more about my passions as I connected with other prospective students and heard their goals around ordained ministries, diplomacy, public health, etc. Connecting with professors and learning about their academic formation inspired me to pursue scholarship in my area of interest. My DivEx experience also brought insight into the many different centers a Divinity student can participate in, the amazing panels one can listen to across Harvard, and the different research opportunities across the world. Lastly, the most beautiful aspect of my HDS application experience is the opportunity to build relationships that cross cultural and religious bounds. This happens through the mundane conversations with other prospective students, support offered to one another before submitting the anxiety-driven application, and in this virtual world, the comedy experienced in the Zoom private chat (I know you all know what I mean!). 

Clarity does not always mean you know exactly what you want to do. To me, clarity is the experience of being affirmed that you are on the right direction to fulfilling your life’s purpose, even if you do not know what that is yet. Let me mention how a life’s purpose is ever evolving, just as the world is. With all the knowledge you have gained up to this point, the belief system you have internalized, and your academic endeavors, you will be asked—if you pursue your education at Harvard Divinity, what is at stake? What are you willing to be challenged on? What part of your world view are you willing to let go of in order to leave space for something new? How may Harvard Divinity be the community that journeys with you towards your academic and spiritual endeavors? 

If you attend Harvard Divinity School, you will constantly be asked these questions. These questions are not meant to change who you are or fulfill an agenda. These questions are designed to extend your worldview into territory that you may not have encountered before, fuel passions that you may not be aware of, and offer you a tool kit to be a change agent in a world that is in dire need of passion and healing. Use this time now to ask what really matters to you, and how Harvard Divinity School can get you closer to that. For my folks attending Diversity and Explorations, or really any other admissions events at HDS, use those opportunities to gain insight on what your future may hold here at Harvard Divinity School. Harvard Divinity is designed to ignite your passions and connect you to other scholars who are also driven by a desire to contribute to and be a witness to a transformed world. Welcome, I hope that you are coming with hands and minds wide open!