Rhoda Maendel | Nyack College 2020 Valedictorian

Nyack College’s School of Education is known for its strength in teaching educators how to teach as well as teaching educators how to learn.

Nyack’s 2020 Valedictorian Rhoda Maendel, an adolescent education major, is proof that a crucial tool for teaching is experiential learning.

One of her high school teachers had mentioned Nyack College to her and friends of hers were planning to attend. “I decided to apply as well. I especially liked the idea of attending a residential college that emphasized Christian faith and diversity,” Rhoda explains. A Nyack College Honors Program student, she adds, “I discovered that Nyack’s School of education was known for its rigor and thorough preparation for a teaching career.”

There’s no surprise that the Nyack core value that most appealed to Rhoda is being” globally engaged by fostering a global perspective within a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Christian academic community.” After high school graduation, Rhoda spent two years in Germany—first working at daycare in Berlin and later volunteering at a special education school in a rural village in Thuringia.

The Global Service-Learning program at Nyack offered a transformational experience for Rhoda when she joined the team that served in the Philippines. “I learned about children’s education in poverty. The smiles, laughter, and songs of the children and youth I met there will always stay with me. I feel so privileged to have shared two weeks of their lives with them and to have witnessed their resilience in the face of unbelievable tragedies.”

Contributions to campus life during her time on the Rockland County campus included Meals on Wheels delivery with the Office of College Relations and also as a peer consultant in the Writing Center. Ever ready to share her brand of honesty—whether pointing out “fallacies in students’ papers” or “debating with professors about literary interpretations and theology”—Rhoda proved her strength in using her “voice” and critical thinking.

“My goal was to help people find their way closer to the truth. I believe that knowing the truth is not the end of the journey; instead, such knowledge has to impact and change our actions, urging us toward better work, more meaningful interactions, and wiser decisions.”

How has Nyack contributed to her college experience?

“Nyack has impacted my worldview, my ability to overcome challenges, and my level of creativity. I learned in a class on writing fiction that imposed constraints increases creativity. In the same way, the limitations of dorm life forced my friends and I to think out of the box in finding ways to make our own food, socialize, and celebrate holidays,” says the new seventh and eighth grade literature teacher on staff at a private Christian school in Pennsylvania. “The creativity I discovered in Nyack has impacted my ability as a teacher to work around the restrictive boundaries of school systems.”

Even the most creative, could not have imagined the COVID-19 pandemic. And for the Class of 2020, none of them could have imagined a spring semester without celebrating their accomplishments. There’s something Rhoda recalls from a hike with friends on Hook Mountain as they looked over a cliff at the tiny houses, hedges and grass below. “I learned from this experience that sometimes you have to climb a mountain to gain perspective.”

Asked for her response to the May 9 commencement ceremony being an impossibility, Rhoda shared with an equal mix of honesty and maturity.

“Not having a commencement ceremony is disappointing and seems at first like an anticlimax. After all, it is important to celebrate any big milestones in our lives. Graduating from college is a huge accomplishment for everyone. Each student should not only be so proud of their achievement, but they should also be proud of the family, friends, mentors, and professors who made it possible for them to reach this point. Everyone should find some way to celebrate on May 9 by either raising a glass, eating your favorite food, or even just letting out a cheer for all that hard work.”

“However, I have thought a great deal about the coronavirus pandemic (my parents, siblings, and other relatives are healthcare workers)” she continues. “I strongly believe that the best way for us as 2020 graduates to accept a non-traditional graduation is to look at it from a different angle. As Christian missionaries, aren’t we obligated to see COVID-19 as an opportunity to serve? If you just graduated as a nurse, what better time than now to get a job? If you are a teacher like me, find ways to encourage your students, who are finding distance learning hard. There is no time for self-pity when the world is waiting for our help in any small way we can give it.”

With that encouragement for her fellow 2020 graduates, she also urges prospective Nyack College students, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% of what you make of it.”

A timely word for such a time as this.

Congratulations and prayers for continued successful leadership, Rhoda!