Personal Story of Adversity, Insight and Gratitude

Kayla Manning
Kayla Manning '22, Memorial Church Student Advisory Board Member. File photo by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications

By Kayla Manning '22
Memorial Church Student Advisory Board Member and Church School Teacher

As I type this on Aug. 21, 2020, I sit 5 days away from my 20th birthday. It feels a bit odd to enter my third decade of life with so much of the immediate future unknown, but the past couple of years have taught me to view uncertainty and troubling times as opportunities for growth.

I moved into my freshman dorm on my 18th birthday, marking the beginning of an exciting life away from my rural hometown in Texas. During my first year on campus, I met some of my favorite people on this planet and learned more than I could have ever imagined. To cap off my freshman year, I left the United States for the first time to study abroad in Prague for the summer. Unfortunately, my time abroad came to an abrupt end when I suffered from a life-threatening case of hyponatremia. After an emergency trip to the hospital and several days alone in a Czech ICU, I flew to the US alongside an escort nurse to receive care in a hospital near my home.

Four days before my 19th birthday and less than a week before sophomore move-in, I learned that I had to declare an unplanned leave of absence from Harvard as a result of my scare abroad. At age 19, this break from school allowed me to establish an identity apart from that of a “student” and taught me to never take my time in Cambridge for granted. From clinging to life in a Czech hospital bed in July to missing the Harvard-Yale Game in November, I learned to truly take 2 Corinthians 12:10 to heart:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Kayla ManningAfter returning to Cambridge for the Spring 2020 semester, I enthusiastically reclaimed the life that I yearned for during my semester away. Soon after my return, however, COVID-19 forced me to once again spend involuntary time away from school.

On July 6, 2020, Harvard announced that sophomores and juniors will likely not return to campus until Fall 2021. This news left me disheartened, but I knew that God had carried me through far worse circumstances. On the evening of July 6, 2019, exactly one year prior to Harvard’s Fall 2020 announcement, I called my Teaching Fellow out of fear that I would not wake up the next morning. My sadness while away from campus does not even compare to what could have happened had I not made that phone call a year earlier. Through my weakest chapter, God equipped me with the resilience to endure the present circumstances.

While I never imagined my college experience would look like this, I am grateful for the perspective gained thus far. I learned in Fall 2019 to view difficult circumstances from a place of gratitude rather than despair. I see this additional time away from campus as an opportunity to rejoice in my survival beyond Prague, pray for those struggling in the present, and give thanks for a life in Cambridge worthy of missing. As described in 2 Corinthians, God strengthens us through times of tumult and uncertainty in order to enable us to weather the storm ahead.

Kayla Manning is a proud member of Adams House studying Statistics with a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. She grew up in Salado, Texas and attended Sunday School at Salado United Methodist Church as a child. After outgrowing the program, she began to volunteer in various children ministry activities in her community. While on campus, she loves spending time with the children of Memorial Church every week and is grateful to have found a sense of community as a Church School Teacher. Currently, Kayla is serving on the Student Advisory Board at Memorial Church and taking online classes from her home in Salado.