Peter Cunningham, Class of 2010: Exploring his passions led him to study architecture

January 2018

From Mason to Maryland, Mars Hill Academy 2010 graduate Peter Cunningham has spent his time since graduation exploring and exercising his passion for the arts.

He studied English literature, minoring in art and music, at Wheaton College. He taught drama, art, and music and assisted with facilities for a year at MHA before deciding to return to school to study architecture.

Mr. Cunningham recently completed his Master of Architecture at the University of Maryland.

“I was also able to keep some of my other passions alive by singing in UMD's Chamber Singers and serving as a founding board member of the Eliot Society, a nonprofit devoted to reconnecting faith and the arts in the Washington, D.C. area,” he said.

Mr. Cunningham shared more about how MHA has shaped his life.

Q: What are some highlights of your time at MHA?

A: My fondest memories in the classroom were with Dr. Colvin in Antiquities and American Humanities, Dr. Jero in Latin and Greek, and Mrs. Morwood in English Literature and Modernity. My favorite project was the eighth grade Literary Timeline, where I took creative license and used architecture as a visual theme to tie all of the eras together. Outside the classroom, I loved participating in the school musical every year, as well as playing on the short-lived MHA baseball team.

Q: How did your MHA education prepare you for college and beyond?

A: Dr. Cernucan's rhetoric class was incredibly challenging at first, but one of the most rewarding in the end. Writing five pages and giving a five-minute speech every week doesn't sound too bad now, but at the time it was very challenging for me. The skills I learned in those classes taught me how to make effective speeches and persuasive arguments with logos, ethos, and pathos, all under tight deadlines.

It has been incredibly helpful in architecture school, where we have regular reviews in which we present a visual and verbal narrative, guiding critics through our design process and to a conclusion. Architecture school offered me a great deal of public speaking experience, and I have benefitted from the rote practice. However, it never offered me a rigorous study of what makes a good speech or essay, unlike my MHA studies in rhetoric and my other humanities courses.

Architects, of course, communicate through drawings — that is their unique language, the one we go to school to learn — but they also spend much of their time presenting their work through words, whether they are selling a grand vision to a potential client or explaining a wall section to a contractor. These skills — skills of using clear and clean grammar and diction, of providing hierarchy and structure, and of persuading people through logical, empathetic, and impassioned arguments — will be with me and will be called upon my whole life.

Q: What has God taught you during your time in college and grad school?

A: One lesson God has taught me is that sometimes having faith in His plans requires me to be patient, and sometimes it requires me to be proactive. God gave me a passion for architecture from an early age, but I withheld from pursuing it as a career until I knew that it was more than an interest — I wanted to know it was a calling. He blessed me with the opportunity to study other disciplines like English, music, economics, and art history.

Once I decided to pursue architecture, my wife, Caroline, and I tried to respond quickly, accepting enrollment at Maryland before we had any financial aid lined up and before she had a job. Again, He met our needs, providing us with the necessary financial aid and giving Caroline a job that launched her journalism career.

To follow God in faith does not require years of prayer and thoughtful deliberation with wise council; but it might. Our faith and God's plan are independent of time, like God Himself. Rather, they are both dependent on His graciousness and our obedience.

Q: Do you have any advice for current MHA students?

A: I encourage you to enjoy, for as long as you can, the mystery of what you will major in and where your career will begin. Or, put another way, I encourage you to pursue all your interests all the time.

Although I eventually chose a specific career path, I still chose an interdisciplinary one, and I am constantly scheming how to use my other passions both in and out of architecture. I hope you will all live an interdisciplinary life — especially those of you who think you know exactly what you want to be. These passions are gifts from above, and they offer us a richer, fuller life.