Sustainability. Empowerment. Dignity.

Posted on March 10th, 2011 by

by Megan Gode ’10

Who are you and how are you going to change the world? What really matters? What is your purpose?

These are the big questions that we all know exist, but sometimes fail to ask ourselves. These are the questions that challenge us, but we might be afraid to confront.  These are the questions that matter.

Mary Duvall '05

Mary Duvall ’05 is one Gustavus graduate who opened herself to these questions. “She lives into these questions and lives out those answers,” Chris Johnson ’85 says in fond recollection of his former student, Duvall. 

Johnson was the instructor of the January term course “Changing the World: Justice, Action, and the Meaning of Life” that Duvall took her sophomore year at Gustavus.  It’s a class that asks the “big” questions and, in turn, opens unique conversations with peers.

“Mary personifies the best of what the students across the board bring to the class,” Johnson says explaining Duvall’s unique ability to engage and attend to the perspectives of others.

In choosing to implement what became important to her through her January course, Duvall chose to continue her journey at Gustavus by studying abroad in India.

When she returned from her travels, Duvall craved an outlet to relate her experience abroad. Her answer came in the form of the Center for Vocational Reflection or CVR [now the Center for Servant Leadership], a place where she was able to continually ask herself the big questions: Who am I and how am I going to change the world? Who do I want to become?

After graduation, Duvall returned to India for 10 months through a study-abroad program. But once back in India, she felt like an outsider. “I was trying to fix something that wasn’t mine,” says Duvall.

Feeling as if she was meant for something else, Duvall returned to Minnesota and moved to Minneapolis. She worked on several local projects for close to a year, but once again, it didn’t feel like her calling. “My heart was in the international sphere,” says Duvall.

Following her heart and her sense of “calling,” Duvall began her work at Lutheran World Relief (LWR) in Advocacy Organizing. Founded in 1945, with an underlying message of affirming God’s love, Lutheran World Relief began as a non-governmental organization on a mission to meet the needs of communities devastated by World War II.

Today, expanding on its initial mission, LWR has partnered worldwide to respond to emergencies, seek and promote solutions to poverty, and ultimately, help communities help themselves.

Duvall now serves as Grassroots Outreach Coordinator where she organizes donations to LWR’s aims and works to help people become more aware of injustices to increase constituent engagement. “It makes me see the power of an individual or community,” Duvall says about her job as she recognizes that it’s important to support people’s ability to make their own change. “It’s about sustainability, empowerment, dignity,” says Duvall.

The connections Duvall is making with people has been uplifting. “I feel like what I’m doing is what I’m supposed to do,” she says. Her work has helped her understand the systems and structures of poverty and how to cope with that.

Johnson explains Duvall’s “call” to work: “It is so much a matter of her living out the deepest truths about who she is and why she is here.” He says he marvels at her ability to display this in such respectful, meaningful ways.

Duvall gives Gustavus praise for her involvement in the non-profit sector. She returns to campus often for visits, to attend events, and to speak in classes. “Gustavus’s focus on justice and vocation is important,” says Duvall, who has undoubtedly exemplified an excellent blending of the two.


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