Nelson had a rough start at Hillsdale. A freshman in ’92, he was a student for two years before taking a year off and returning in the fall of ’95 to complete his education.
“The reason for leaving was just being a bad student,” Nelson said of his gap year. His senior year brought more academic frustration.
“’97 was just a horrific year academically, and I didn’t finish — I didn’t graduate. My scholarship got yanked, and so I left.”
Since leaving, Nelson has lived in three states and tried a number of different jobs.
“Originally, I’d kind of thought that I wanted to go into youth ministry. I wanted to pursue either youth ministry or education,” he said.
And that’s what he did. After failing to graduate, Nelson moved back to Seattle, his hometown.
“I was in Seattle for about three years just working with the young adults group at church, and working for telecommunications companies. I’ve kind of randomly, through no direct intention, ended up in telecommunications jobs — pagers, cell phones, installing phone systems — for some reason, I just keep coming back to that,” Nelson said.
“After about three years in Seattle, I had an idea for a novel, and a friend of mine who I’d met here [at Hillsdale] had moved down to Indiana invited me to come stay with him and work on that for a year. And so I moved out to Indiana, and started working on the novel, and started working part-time again, just selling cell phones. After that, it became pretty clear to me that the reason for the move was just that I had become way complacent and comfortable in Seattle, and that God was moving me into new directions.”
From there, Nelson became a youth pastor at a Detroit church, and then he did something he had never done before. He became a guard and shift supervisor at a juvenile detention facility.
“It was kind of a different form of youth ministry,” Nelson said. “It was a really interesting place because of the nature of it — it wasn’t a state job. It was a Christian organization that was running it, so it was discipline and correction, along with ministry.”
Over a year ago, Nelson returned to Detroit, taking a few “odd jobs” because he loved the church there, where he had been a youth pastor years ago. But he found himself growing restless with his new occupations and decided to make a change.
“I thought, ‘I don’t like where I’m at, and started thinking about Hillsdale again and decided to come back and finish up and pursue something I’d rather be doing,’ ” he said.
Thirteen years later, Nelson is finishing his Christian studies major as a senior, almost as if he had never left, learning from the same teachers whose classes he had failed before. Initially, he did not know how many of his credits would still be valid, after so many years had passed since being a student here, but he found a wealth of help and support waiting for him.
“Everyone I’ve gone to, whether it’s been administration or faculty, has been amazingly helpful, and they really, really want to see people develop and grow here,” Nelson said. “I guess my final thoughts would be just to take advantage of that, and know that the staff are here to help people. All you have to do is ask. It’s been a different experience for me simply because I’ve asked for help, and by and large, I’ve gotten it.”
Nelson said that when he was here before, he bought into the idea of failure, something he intensely discourages now.
“High school had come very easily to me, and when I was here before, I didn’t really know how to buckle down and study as hard as I needed to. But stick it out, do whatever it takes, and never believe that you can’t do it. This is an amazing, challenging school, but the professors are aware of that, and so many of them will help you in whatever way they can.”
Nelson is planning on going into either counseling, pastoral ministry, youth ministry, or education.
“Some friends have started a private school this year …” Nelson said. “I’ve actually been discussing with them the possibility of coming to work there, so that’s probably where I’ll head after this is back into education.”