I was very saddened to hear of the death of one of the AIM (Adults in Ministry) students at SLCC today. I don’t access the staff e-mail anymore, for obvious reasons, so I read about it in passing on Facebook and had it confirmed just a little bit ago. Joe Wiliams died in his sleep.
I liked Joe. He was one of the AIM students that I thought really “got it.” The AIM program’s a tough thing to manage for a lot of the students. It’s set up for people who already have families, ministries, etc and still want their degree. It’s a big commitment that a lot of people aren’t prepared to take on. (Disclaimer: Those that make it and do well are great…this next bit isn’t about them.) Some enter with a big head thinking they’ll breeze right through, but then reality catches up to them and they get humbled by the workload—or they’re arrogant enough to pretend it’s somehow the school’s fault. A lot of people start it, but don’t make it…or they make it, but it takes them forever and they only finish out of obligation rather than desire. Frankly, I’ve seen a LOT of AIM students who just didn’t have a lot of commitment, didn’t realize that it was going to be hard work, and ended up not caring if they passed or not. In fact, in recent weeks, I’ve seen AIM students so pissed off at having to meet commitments they didn’t think were “fair” that they threatened to tell the President of the school “right to his face” that their program is “worthless.” (Nice, huh?…and “sic,” by the way.) There are a lot of “Ugh” stories in the AIM program.
Joe’s story wasn’t one of those.
He’s been taking a long time to complete the program. That’s true. It’s also true that he’s had serious health problems, suffered infections that have brought him close to death’s door more than once…but still stuck it out and went to class whenever he could. He kept fighting. He got sick, he withdrew from classes, he got better, and he came back. He KEPT fighting. Most people DON’T DO THAT. Most people piss and moan about their own lack of commitment, masquerading it as an unfair college policy. But I never heard Joe say a bad word about the school. He was in the Library working on papers a lot, and the closest he ever got to that with me was, “I can’t wait to be done…” and he even said that with a smile—he ALWAYS had a smile for you. He looked at his chance to get a ministerial degree as a privilege and he worked hard for it. I can honestly say that I never looked at my SLCC education or even employment that way. Joe was and is one of a kind, and this world is a poor, poor place after his loss.
I don’t know if SLCC gives honorary degrees…but in a fair world, Joe Williams would get one. He earned it. He worked his butt off in extreme circumstances without so much as a cross word. In the light of this, I hope I don’t come across as crass in saying it, but he was part of a dying breed. A breed I very much respect, admire, and wish I had it in me to emulate. He’s exactly the type of person SLCC should be seeing walk across their stage at graduation. I am cut to the quick to know that it won’t ever happen. Thank God that he is getting a far greater reward in Heaven…one he worked just as hard for—harder even—and that he deserves a lot more than most people who walk across life’s stage.
Joe, I don’t know if you get to read blogs up there…but tassels and robe or not, you’re one of the best to ever walk through the school’s doors. We’ll all miss you. Congratulations. You finally finished the work, and you finished at the top of your class. Well done, sir. Well done.