Sarah Miller – a freshman at Wheaton College – would probably hate to be described as your “typical Wheaton student,” (just as most Wheaton students would) but I only mean to use that phrase in the best possible sense. Miller is unfailingly polite, noticeably reverent and respectful when talking about her parents, and has an uncannily high standard of discernment when considering how media influences us. Although she isn’t Amish, the Mennonite influence of her home of Holmes County, Ohio clearly shines through. An aspiring journalist, her work honestly and intelligently engages the question of how Christians can respond to the cultural trends that we see in the media.
TC: Why did you choose Wheaton?
Sarah Miller: Initially I didn’t want to come to Wheaton at all. I visited here during my junior year and came away without a lot of great things to say, and I decided that I definitely wasn’t coming here; it wasn’t the school for me, and I was very adamant about that. But looking back, I realized that there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the school or with my visit; I visited a year later—my senior year [this past spring] with my parents, and it was just a completely different experience. It was like I was seeing it with new eyes. This past year, maybe year and a half was a time of huge change for me, so I think it [the new view of Wheaton] was more because of a change in me, rather than a change in the school or my actual experience. Basically, Wheaton was my backup choice; I was told to apply – my parents really encouraged me to apply here, and I had family that went here – and I did, but didn’t really expect anything to come out of it. But as time went on it sort of kept coming up again and again, and on my final visit here, I remember a very clear moment during chapel – I know that sounds really cliché; people always talk about that “revelatory moment” – I had this moment where I could totally picture myself here at Wheaton; I just felt like it was where I was supposed to be. I wasn’t super-excited about coming, but now I feel like I’m definitely where I need to be.
TC: So looking back on it all, you would say you’re glad to be here now?
Sarah Miller: Absolutely.
TC: On your Millennial Influx profile, you mention that you’re from Ohio, and that you live close to one of the biggest Amish communities in the world.
Sarah Miller: Yes.
TC: I imagine you included that because it holds some personal significance for you?
Sarah Miller: Where I live, [Amish influence] is everywhere. I’m Mennonite, personally, so it was kind of funny coming here to Wheaton. I’ll tell someone that I’m Mennonite, and they’ll be like, “Oh, are you Amish?” and I’ll say no, all I said was that I’m Mennonite; people don’t really realize that there’s such a huge difference. But it just influences a lot of the community; the community I’m from is really conservative—it’s kind of a bubble, so I kind of went from one bubble to another.
Sarah Miller: You know, I had Amish classmates, an Amish housekeeper, an Amish babysitter growing up, my dad was raised Amish (but has since left the Amish church), so it’s kind of a part of my life.
TC: So how would you say that that’s influenced you? Like, looking at your friends who weren’t raised Mennonite, do you see a difference?
Sarah Miller: There are some values that I have that I definitely think are different from the majority of people at Wheaton; one thing that Mennonites hold dear is the value of non-resistance – which they take from the example of Christ dying on the cross when He could have resisted – and the idea of loving people; it can be hard to love your neighbor or your enemy when you’re killing them, and that’s something I was always taught growing up, and I really held on to that all through high school. It was something I really advocated for, but since coming to Wheaton, I’ve kind of had to see that in a new light. Having friends in ROTC has been so good; at first I would always just explain my position and defend it, but I’ve come to adjust my views a little bit, and while I’ve got to be careful what I say here, I think that as Christians we are called to protect the weak. So it’s a developing view—I don’t hold it as firmly as I used to, because I’ve seen other sides and perspectives.
TC: Let’s talk about your personal walk with Christ – when you accepted Him, how long it’s been since then, and how your relationship with Him has changed over time.
Sarah Miller: I was raised in a Christian home; my parents are wonderful. They’re wise, and incredible, and just—my parents are awesome. I was always taught the Bible, I was raised in the Mennonite church, went to a Mennonite high school, so I had all this Christian, Mennonite influence coming to me all the time. In high school I sort of went through a rebellious phase, you know, like many people do, but it was really the time that I started to own my faith. I had gone through a time where I rejected my faith, mostly just for the sake of being contrary to my parents, but it became a time where I was just forced to re-evaluate [my faith] and really own it for myself. And it’s been really interesting, because I thought I was really taking ownership of it then, but since coming to Wheaton, I’ve realized that with each phase of life I’m re-evaluating. It’s been a process, and I think Wheaton was – for me – a huge step in the right direction.
TC: You like to travel. Is that something that you would like to work into what you do career-wise?
Sarah Miller: Absolutely. I’ve always said that I definitely want to travel with my career, and eventually have a family that can travel with me, and one thing that’s cool about journalism is that it’s conducive to travel.
TC: So journalism is a serious consideration for you?
Sarah Miller: Yes, I’m very seriously thinking about journalism. It’s interesting—I registered as a biology pre-med major; I had geared my high school courses toward that path, taking all the sciences and math that would get me ready for it, but I completely changed my mind over the summer, so I’m currently undecided, and taking no science or math classes.
TC: So you think you might end up studying communications instead?
Sarah Miller: Possibly.
TC: One other thing you mention on Millennial Influx: you say you’re interested in “the intersection of faith and pop culture.” That can mean a lot of different things; what does it mean for you?
Sarah Miller: I’ve always been interested in what society gravitates towards and why, and looking at that from a Christian perspective. I love fashion, I love music, I love all of that, but as a part of me taking ownership of my faith I feel like I have a responsibility to be mindful about media and pop culture in general, and I think a lot of that comes from my dad. Lots of parents will tell you “what goes in, comes out,” so we need to think about what we’re taking in, and that was always kind of a boring idea to me, but it’s really interesting to me now, looking at it from a new perspective.
Click here to hear Sarah and me discuss, “What surprised you about Wheaton?”