When Ethan Goodnight ’16 was writing his senior thesis for Associate Professor of History Dr. Mark Edwards, he had no idea his essay would eventually play a crucial role in his acceptance to Harvard.
Edwards encouraged Goodnight to submit his thesis for publication in an academic journal and guided him through the process. The thesis, detailing the relationship between William Apess, a Native American Methodist Minister, and Christian Nationalism, was published in the January 2017 edition of “Religions,” an interdisciplinary journal of religion and theology. Later that year, Goodnight and his wife, Maria (Gray ’16), moved to Chicago, where he enrolled in the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS) at the University of Chicago, and she taught at the Ellen H. Richards Career Academy High School on the southwest side of Chicago.
MAPSS at U Chicago sets a breakneck yearlong pace. “Nothing can really prepare you for the shock of the oneyear master’s,” says Goodnight. But he admits that his undergraduate experience at SAU helped him develop the skills and mindset he needed for grad school and afforded him opportunities that set a good foundation for graduate work. “I have fond memories of attending conferences, doing primary research and presenting that research throughout undergrad,” he says.
After graduating from the University of Chicago, Goodnight knew he wanted to continue his education in a doctoral program, and Harvard was his top choice. He began by reaching out to Dr. Catherine Brekus, Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard Divinity School. “She’s a giant in the field,” says Goodnight, “and it took me a few weeks to work up the courage to send her an email!” What he didn’t know was that Dr. Brekus had already heard of him and had in fact cited his work on Apess in a book she was working on. That fact, along with his experiences, transcript and research interests, clinched Goodnight’s spot in the interdisciplinary American Studies program, including a tuition waiver, living stipend and summer research scholarships.
“Maria knew she was marrying an academic,” says Goodnight, “and is of course thrilled with the development. [In Boston] we’ve gotten plugged into a great Free Methodist Church community, and Maria’s also enjoying connecting with the high school community where she teaches Spanish.” And even though he’s only just completed his first semester, Goodnight still has an eye to the future and hopes to someday teach at a liberal arts school, either secular or religious, and be to his students what his teachers were first to him: a guide and mentor.