By Olivia Mund
Berry College was built on student work, literally and metaphorically. A number of the buildings on campus today were constructed by students, and one cannot ignore the significance of that integral sense of dedication and perseverance on the development of the school. This belief in the importance of hard, honest work has not been forgotten on Berry’s campus as nearly ninety-five percent of students work during their college careers. However, student work on Berry’s campus has evolved over the course of its history in more ways than one.
In 1930, a man named O.C. Skinner wrote to the Executive Committee of the Berry Schools in regards to the need for more student workers. In his letter he claims the students already working for the School are not distributed efficiently. He also informs the Committee that the School needs at least twenty-five more student workers for its daily operation. Skinner’s letter highlights the importance of student workers to the School in the early twentieth century. In order to run properly, the School had to be well staffed with student workers. This perception of work is distinctly different from the modern mentality where student work is primarily for the benefit of the student and the student’s future, as opposed to a necessary mechanism of the School’s operation.
Oliver Brooks is an example of a dedicated student worker from this same time in Berry’s history. In 1928, Brooks wrote a letter to E.H. Hoge in which he discussed his desire to tithe his wages from student work back to the Berry School. This proposal displays two important facets of the School’s student work. First, it shows the commitment of the school’s workers. Student workers, like Brooks, worked for the School to pay their expenses and believed it honorable to labor diligently at the work set before them. Second, this letter illustrates Brooks perception of the work being done by the School for the community and students like him. He says, “I believe that in tithing to the work of the Schools I am tithing to the God of all good works, for in what other way can we give to God? I believe that God honors this one small good that I have done just as he honor(s) the many great things that Miss Berry through the Schools has brought about…” Brooks regards the work of the School to support the community and students like himself as equivalent to the very work of God. This respect for the School’s work is one of the main contributors to the institution’s success over the past hundred years.
The School’s work program has transformed from this original function as a component of the School’s everyday running into a flourishing program intended to equip students for their futures. Berry students currently have the option to work a number of on-campus jobs ranging from housekeeping to resident assistants to secretaries. In addition, Berry has over fifteen student-run enterprises in a wide range of fields where students can have experience working for a semi-independent organization and have a job title as advanced as General Manager.
One particular document in the Digital Archive by Mott R. Sawyers details his views of the importance of honorable work. Near the conclusion of his letter, he says, “It is through work that men have removed mountains, cured the sick, wrought righteousness, ushered in reforms, brought blessings to the race, [built] monuments, and made their names immortal.” While the student work program has changed in dramatic ways over the years, the goal is still true to Martha Berry’s wishes. Berry College teaches young people the importance of honorable work, and Martha Berry’s name has been made immortal in the hearts and lives of many.