On the afternoon of June 5, the world stopped for me. The university I care so much about had suffered an act of violence that was as senseless as it was unimaginable. I — and others on campus and around the world — experienced a gamut of emotions as we tried to understand, process, and respond to a violation of a place we consider sacred.
Seattle Pacific is the place where I, my parents, and dozens of our family members earned degrees. It’s also the place where I found my academic and spiritual mentors, formed some of my most cherished and enduring friendships, met my husband, and today work alongside colleagues I respect, in support of young people who amaze me.
In early July, SPU received a letter from a woman who knows something about the sacredness of this place. In the letter, she wrote: “SPU has been dear to my heart and a very important part of my life since I was 5 years old. That is when we moved from Kansas so my Dad could accept a job on the faculty of SPC. In 1976, after many years of dedicated service, a building was named after him.”
Barbara Miller Jefferries ’53 is the daughter of Otto Miller. The building named for her father, Otto Miller Hall — which today houses SPU’s programs in computer science, engineering, mathematics, and physics — was the site of the June 5 violence.
Miller, who was my own father’s favorite professor, taught physics at Seattle Pacific from 1937 to 1966. Smart, funny, and somewhat eccentric, he was beloved for making physics accessible and interesting, often reaching into a box of “stuff” on his desk for the right visual aid to illustrate a scientific principle. With a strong Christian faith and a deep love for students, he wore many different hats at SPU. As the student financial officer, he paid “more than once” for a student’s loan with his own money, recalls his daughter.
How would this legendary professor have felt about June 5 and its aftermath? Barbara wrote about that in her letter: “Needless to say, these past events have touched me deeply, knowing how they would have saddened my dad’s heart. For both the shooter and the victims. But I know he would have rejoiced at the way in which the faculty, staff, and students responded. Christ was exalted! Isn’t that what we are all about?”
I have painful images from that day, but I have many other images, wonderful images, from the ensuing hours, days, and weeks as well. In particular, I remember walking across campus to the evening prayer service in First Free Methodist Church just hours after the incident, thinking about what had happened. On the lawn of Tiffany Loop, students sat quiet in groups, heads bowed, holding hands, as the sun began to set. Christ was exalted.
A little over a week later, on June 13, Seattle Pacific celebrated the traditional Ivy Cutting ceremony on that same lawn. Barbara watched her grandson, Alec Forsyth ’14, join two other graduating seniors to ring the Centennial Bell. “Oh, how times have changed, but I believe in SPU and its mission to live for Christ,” Barbara wrote, “sending that message, through the students, wherever they go.”
In the fall, the Seattle Pacific community will come together to rededicate Otto Miller Hall to the work of SPU’s mission. The memory of the man lives on, as does the commitment to the God he served. The sacred place is still a sacred place.
In this issue of Response, I hope you will celebrate that place and its people with me.
Jennifer Johnson Gilnett