Rev. Julie Tonnesen serves her community with a clear vision of providing space and opportunity for young people to ask difficult questions and learn about themselves. In her current position as Associate University Chaplain and as the Campus Minister for LEAF (Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Friends) at Elon University, Julie strives to foster spaces where students can explore and live into the fullness of their intersecting identities. Students come to her in happy times and in difficult times because she makes them feel seen, heard, and accepted.
This is evident in a project Julie calls one of her most exciting: curating and implementing the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life at Elon University’s Thursday morning speaker series, “Numen Lumen.” This year’s theme is, “Me: In My Own Words,” and Julie’s hope for that theme is to give folks from across Elon’s campus the opportunity to share a piece of themselves that may not come up in everyday conversation. She says that “in giving a platform and a microphone to folks from under-represented identities and departments, we have been able to amplify voices and stories that challenge the status quo, and bear witness to the wide range of stories and life experiences that exist within the university community.” Her long-term hope for this series is to increase empathy, spark curiosity, and empower under-represented voices across the campus community.
A 2014 graduate of Elon University, Julie now finds herself giving back to her alma mater in a role that allows her to create space for students to explore and grow, while learning about others lived experiences in a safe and supportive environment. Julie embodies the work of a mentor without making it an obvious goal. “People are naturally attracted to her positive spirit and effervescent personality,” one of her nominators says of Julie, “but what is really attractive is the way she accepts herself and readily shares her time and talents.” Julie says in her late teens and early twenties she put significant pressure on herself to “have her life together,” and if she could go back, she would tell her high school and college self that it is okay not to have it all figured out. Freeing herself from the idea that she must have it all figured out allows Julie to approach her own life and others’ lives with compassion and curiosity and is one of the keys to her success connecting with and empowering students in the Elon University campus community.
Through her work, Julie is helping to develop young leaders by involving students in leadership and serving roles during worship, empowering students with the chance to lead other students. One of Julie’s nominators comments, “Although she is young, she amazes me with a wisdom and insight that usually is seen in someone who is more seasoned.” Julie is truly a Rising Star in our community, leading the way for young students to explore and find their own path.