“Student” Celebrates Two Decades of Learning

Derrick Rohr reads in Pickler Memorial Library. This fall marks his 21st year as student at Truman. Although he earned two undergraduate degrees more than a decade ago, Rohr has taken at least one class every fall and spring semester since 1999.

Derrick Rohr is a familiar face to a lot of people around campus and throughout Kirksville. Even those who may not know him personally have probably seen him at one of his usual haunts, whether it is playing basketball at the rec center, getting a bite to eat downtown or at church on Sunday. He has the energy of an incoming freshman, but the increasing number of grey hairs sprouting through his black mane make it difficult to place his age. It is even more difficult to categorize Rohr the person. He wears many proverbial hats – husband, father, pastor and, for the last 20 years, college student.

Since he first enrolled at Truman in 1999, Rohr has taken at least one class every fall and spring semester. The current school year marks his 21st as a student, but his quest for a degree ended long ago. Rohr earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physics, along with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy and religion, graduating with both in 2006.

“People are often shocked with the pairing of those degrees. I’m not sure I understand their shock,” Rohr said. “Both physics and philosophy and religion are ways of apprehending what’s going on here – trying to figure out the truth about the world and ourselves, so they seem of a piece to me.”

Coming to Truman out of Independence, Mo., Rohr had an affinity for math and physics, but he didn’t have any definitive plans for a major.

“On the little card with the boxes [that says] check stuff you’re interested in, I just checked those, but I didn’t know what I was going to major in,” he said. “When I got to Truman my first schedule came printed and said major: physics. I was like, OK, I’ll do it until something else happens, and I just did it.”

At first, Rohr may have seemed an unlikely candidate to stay in school for two decades. He struggled with some classes in the beginning, and having his high school sweetheart, Tabitha, living a thousand miles away didn’t help.

“I didn’t do too great the first couple of years of school,” he said. “It was OK, I just didn’t study a lot.”

When Tabitha transferred to Truman it inadvertently changed Rohr’s academic trajectory. They got married the summer after their sophomore year, and although he was close to finishing his degree, it was going to take some extra time for Tabitha to complete her studies in nursing. Already active in Campus Christian Fellowship, he decided to add the philosophy and religion degree.

While double majors are usually thought of as exceptionally driven students, by his own admission, Rohr was not. A look through his transcripts shows several years front-loaded with what seems like a disproportionate amount of math and science classes, in which he achieved varied levels of success. He nearly missed out on one of his degrees due to a misinterpretation of the course catalog.

“I was freaked out for a second, and then I was like, I honestly don’t really care. I already did it all. Thanks for the paper, but I don’t care that much,” he said. “I just like learning.”

In fact, Rohr has no interest in earning additional degrees from Truman. He is slowly working toward a seminary degree from a school in Tennessee, but when it comes to classes locally, his main goal is expanding his understanding of subjects he finds enjoyable. Even though it may not be his top priority, Rohr has managed to achieve a grade point average of 3.07 over the 203 hours of college credit he has accrued. It helps that in the 13 years since he received his degrees, he has taken classes based solely on whether or not they appeal to his interests. As a result, his grades have been predominately A’s and B’s.

While Rohr occasionally takes recreational classes such as tennis, racquetball or weight training, most of his selections touch on English, history or religion. He has even taken a few classes multiple times. For Rohr, those semesters are an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the subject. He also uses them as a chance to meet new students, make deeper connections with the students he mentors through CCF and to help him in crafting his sermons. The juxtaposition of degrees from both a scientific field and religious concentration allows him a plethora of options for examining the larger questions in life.

“There’s a lot of noise, I guess, about some big conflict or disagreement between faith and science, but I don’t see it,” he said. “I think intelligent, thoughtful and humble people can acknowledge that they don’t know everything to start with. If you’re going to try to understand things about God, that’s going to require and fit with understanding things about the world and what’s going on here.”

Among Rohr’s favorite classes at Truman is “Faith and Reason in Christian Thought.”

“The class material itself was the stuff that kept me up at night and I was always wrestling through and thinking about anyway,” he said. “[And the instructor,] she’s an awesome professor. I think she’s very amazing.”

His work with CCF is what ultimately kept the Rohrs in Kirksville. A full-time pastoral staff position for Derrick became available just before Tabitha was to complete her degree. They put their original plan of moving to a larger city on hold, and now Kirksville is the only town their three children, Elle Grace, Jude and Max IV, have ever known.

“We didn’t see it coming,” he said. “We love Kirksville now, it’s great.”

Despite the commitments of a demanding job and growing family, Rohr has always made the time to continue his education. To accommodate his schedule, he tries to take classes that allow for independent study or guided readings. Homework is often done after midnight so as not to detract from quality time with the family, and whenever possible he will take one-hour courses to keep his costs and workload more reasonable. Although it becomes increasingly difficult to fit everything in, Rohr has no plan to end his educational pursuits. He understands the value of having Truman as a resource in his adopted hometown, and he appreciates the opportunity to utilize it and continue learning.

“Unless Truman specifically bans me, I would love to keep it up,” he said.

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