Teachers and students worldwide have found new ways to teach and to learn, as COVID-19 has forced them to rely on the Internet for instruction and study. Living Education’s graduating class of 2020 was no exception. “Coronavirus issues sort of dominated this past semester,” said Living Education’s director, Mr. Jonathan McNair. “Certainly, a big part of the challenge was how to proceed during this scenario—how to make a transition into having classes via computer that is as seamless as possible while still trying to emulate the classroom experience.”
Such a transition was not without trial and error. “In terms of social distancing, the instructors taught via videoconferencing. At first, we tried to have a camera on the whole room, so the instructor could see all the students through one video feed,” said Mr. McNair. “That didn’t work so well—you’re missing some people at the edges, and you can’t really see everybody clearly, because they look small if they’re all in view of the camera. We recognized very quickly that the best way was for all participants to have their own screen. Such an approach would allow instructors to see each student’s face more clearly, though trying to figure out how best to accomplish that was a bit of a challenge.
“One other challenge we ran into was the ‘conference meeting fatigue,’” Mr. McNair revealed. “In a classroom or an in-person conference meeting, no one is looking at each person constantly. On a screen, you feel like you’re being scrutinized by everybody else there. It’s different from a classroom, where your body language is more expressive and you don’t necessarily have to be looking at the teacher every second. Those are some of the logistics that we had to work out.”
How Quickly Things Change
“It was really hard to be focused on the classes during the pandemic,” said Thibaud Duval, one of this year’s graduates. “You’re stuck—you don’t know what happened, you don’t know your future. But we all wanted to finish the program and try to do our best. It was hard, but we did it!”
“They wanted to see the program through,” Mr. McNair agreed, “and they were able to cope. The situation was not ideal, but I was really encouraged by their willingness to slog through the annoyances and keep on doing what they needed to do.”
As he explained, the unexpected challenges brought unexpected blessings. “I think the students grew closer because of the circumstances they were in,” he said. “Challenges that you face draw you closer to those with whom you face them. That’s what happened this year—as the students faced that common battle, it brought them closer together, because now they were practically spending 24/7 together.”
And the pandemic didn’t just bring the students closer to each other—it also brought biblical prophecy closer to them all. “Before March, when we were learning a lot of prophecies, it all felt like theory,” said Mr. Duval. “But in two weeks, everything changed—everything is shut down, you need to stay at home… The theory became reality. Even if it’s not the beginning of the end of the world, you can see that God could easily bring that end in a few years.”
A Ceremony of Screens
Pandemic-related restrictions on group size brought an innovative twist even to the graduation proceedings. “I think this semester’s graduation ceremony went really well,” Mr. McNair said. “We limited the physical attendees to the students and a handful of parents who were able to be there. We used the staff room at Headquarters, like last year, but we separated the chairs quite widely. Mr. Gerald Weston, Mr. Richard Ames, Dr. Douglas Winnail, and Mr. Kenneth Frank spoke to the students through a live video feed, but we also made a live feed available to the parents who were home and others who wanted to watch the ceremony. We set it up so that we had one camera facing the audience and one camera facing the speaker—this way, the speakers and the attendees at home could see the audience throughout the proceedings. Around 30 people were in attendance online!”
But the small number of students this year allowed for some healthy non-virtual celebrating, too. “We had a short reception on the patio outside the Headquarters building, where we could keep everyone at enough distance from each other for social distancing—and a more relaxed celebration outdoors,” Mr. McNair added. “We tried to make it as real and normal as possible. I think a challenge everybody faces today is trying to replicate the old normalcy so we can enjoy the traditions that we have.”
At the close of this unique year of Living Education, one lesson the COVID-19 pandemic has taught clearly is that we never really have the control we think we do. “You can have all the plans you want,” Mr. Duval noted, “you can have the blueprint of your life clearly printed in your mind—but God will have the last word. We have to make our own choices, but He will have what He wants.”
Looking back on the benefits of his experience, he concluded, “LE gives you a fire to do the Work. You see what happens behind the telecast, what happens behind the booklets and the magazines. LE gives you the opportunity to meet people you’ve only seen before on a screen during telecasts. It’s really interesting to understand what happens behind the scenes, to understand how everything works. With the classes, you get a lot of material to study your Bible deeper—you’re given a lot of knowledge that will take years to digest, a lot of spiritual weapons for your life.”
In the end, not even a pandemic could keep Living Education’s second academic year from success. We are grateful to God for His mercy and providence in a very challenging year.