William & Mary

John Bell '07: "You're Doing Yourself a Disservice If You Don't Investigate"

Ask John Bell about his accomplishments at William & Mary, and you'll receive a humble shrug.

"I don't know," he said. "The more exemplary students must have been too busy to do an interview. I'm just like any other religion major, really - I've driven Professor Holmes's car a few times." Despite his unwillingness to brag, however, John's work at the College has been far from commonplace.

When he arrived as a freshman from Wilmington, Delaware, John found that the tight-knit campus community was conducive to many kinds of personal growth. Though he had initially considered attending seminary after graduating, William & Mary's well-rounded Religious Studies Department and its myriad service opportunities soon had him discovering another path. "There was no crisis of conscience," he clarified. "I just saw that there were other things I could do - it opened doors." John volunteered at a food pantry and was inspired to join the Hunger Awareness Task Force, a group that sponsors events to help feed the hungry.

As if this weren't enough, John went on to create "Pump it Up," a fundraising organization that aspired to raise enough money to build a well in a Malawi village that lacked a reliable water supply. Through bake sales, a concert, and other activities, Bell and his friends were able to afford two wells for the village.

In the classroom, John found the material to be wonderfully diverse. "Your faith isn't on trial every time you walk into a class," he explained. "I'm a wanderer. I look at everything. The professors are great at getting you to challenge yourself and ask questions without stepping on people's toes." His double major in history was the perfect complement. "Religion and history go together really well - each one gives great insights into the other."

John finds his knowledge of religious history invaluable and has only one regret: "I never took Intro to Religion - the starting point. I think it's a great class for everyone, even nonmajors. Religion is such a fundamental part of culture. You're doing yourself a disservice if you don't investigate."

Music is another of John's interests. He's co-hosted a series of variety radio shows on WCWM, the campus's official station. "We had one called 'Alphabet Soup,' where each show had songs featuring a different letter - kind of like Sesame Street. Now I'm doing 'Monster Mash,' where we have two battling artists for each show." In addition, "Pump it Up" was named after an Elvis Costello song. "I try to play more mainstream stuff than some of the other programs. My only rule is, no Billy Joel. There are plenty of other stations playing that."

When he graduates, John plans to continue his history of service by joining Teach for America. He'll be teaching social studies to high school students in North Carolina. "After that, who knows? I'm trying to keep things open. I might go to grad school, I might go to the seminary, I might try for a career in public policy."