Harrison Hulse (’24) has grown from a shy, uncertain freshman into a confident, accomplished scholar and respected spiritual leader.

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories highlighting a few Concordia’s uncommon graduates. Faculty and staff submit candidates for consideration. Stories are posted in the days leading up to commencement. View more uncommon graduates here

It’s freshman move-in day on the CUW campus: August, 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic is in full swing as freshman Harrison Hulse sets foot on the bluff for the very first time; the pandemic made it impossible for him to visit before he enrolled.

Harrison, who had traveled from Apex, North Carolina (a suburb of Raleigh), to begin his Concordia journey, would be the first to admit CUW hadn’t been his first choice. The U.S. Naval Academy, Duke, and UNC Chapel Hill were all higher on his list. But for different reasons, none of those schools worked out.

What did work out was an amazing four years as an outstanding student—and student leader—at CUW.

“It seemed like God had torn down or closed off every other door to open up this one,” Harrison recalled, “and He said, ‘This is where you’re going to go and just wait and see all the wonderful things that I can do here, through you and for you.’”

A tough transition

Randy, Spencer, Erika, and Harrison Hulse.

Coming out of high school, Harrison’s head was still spinning just a bit. His father, Randy, had passed away barely two years earlier, following a battle with melanoma skin cancer. His twin brother, Spencer, was off to the University of North Carolina Charlotte to study English and creative writing, leaving their mother, Erika, home alone. So there were a lot of reasons it was tough to move so far away.

“But I think in a lot of ways, it was almost necessary,” Harrison said. “I went to a public high school. Even before I got on the pre-seminary path, I recognized that I stood out amongst my peers. That is, we just didn’t share the same worldview.”

It didn’t help that he was more interested in learning and studying than hanging out with friends.

“For the longest time, I was a pretty closed off individual,” he explained. “I kept to myself, and I loved to ‘live in my books.’ So when I got to Concordia, one of the challenges was to figure out who I was as a people person—and finding out that God was calling me to burst out of my shell a little bit and become interested in other people in a way that I hadn’t been before.”

Covid restrictions made it especially difficult to interact with and get to know people. The first semester was a little rough. But God put people and opportunities in his path that helped him find his footing.

It seemed like God had closed off every other door to open up this [door to Concordia]. He said, ‘This is where you’re going to go and just wait and see all the wonderful things that I can do here, through you and for you.’

Harrison Hulse (’24), Applied Theology/Theological Languages

“By my second semester here, I had found a group of people with whom I could laugh and share good things and hang out and have a good time and really connect in a way that I hadn’t been before,” he said. “And that was really powerful to me, all on the basis that we share this awesome hope in Jesus Christ.”

A father’s influence

Harrison credits both his parents with helping him develop such a strong faith. He describes his mother as “an abundant source of joy in my life with an amazing joy in the Lord.” But it was his father, he said, who really inspired him to get on the pre-seminary path.

“He is the primary reason I’m here now, even though I never actually talked with him about it,” Harrison said. “All of my decisions that led me to this path, God led me down after he died.”

Originally, Harrison had wanted to become a lawyer. In the months and years following his father’s death, however, he took a time to evaluate his life and where it was headed. To a certain extent, he felt he had been “going through the motions” and doing all the things that were expected of him, rather than seeking what God wanted for his life.

“Through reflection on His Word, and prayer, and support from my family and wonderful friends, I came to this conclusion that God has given me these gifts: a love for reading and writing and for Him, and a desire to share His love with others. And where else can I use and express those gifts most bountifully but in the pastoral ministry?

“So even though I never talked with my father about it, in a sense, he pushed me to go. His death and his memory helped reorient me.”

A rare combination

Harrison also plays sousaphone in the Pep Band, and has played tuba in the University Band and Symphonic Wind Ensemble.

Scholastically, Harrison is as solid as they come. He is graduating Summa Cum Laude with a double major in applied theology and theological languages, as well as a minor in philosophy. He tutors fellow undergrads in the Academic Resource Center (ARC) and is the editor in chief of Quaestus, CUW’s “student-led journal presenting ideas about Liberty, Faith, and Economics from a Christian perspective in order to promote human flourishing.” He’s also the president of the Pre-Seminary Student Association (PSSA)—not to mention president of the Campus Ministry Leadership Team (CMLT).

“That’s a pretty rare combination,” said Rev. Dr. Jason Soenksen, professor of theology at CUW and one of Harrison’s key mentors. “Harrison is a very mature student, very gifted in a lot of ways. He could do a lot of things, wherever God leads him. He would be a great parish pastor—or an excellent professor, if he wanted to be.”

Ministry minded

Before becoming president of CMLT, Harrison served for two years as a leader of the Youth Ministry (Y-Min) team. The primary activity of Y-Min is to organize lock-in events for various local congregations.

“That was always one of my favorite things, going out into the community and hanging out with some kids all night, getting all crazy and playing games and also sharing the love of Jesus,” he said. “That was always a great respite from the grind of classes and other stresses of everyday life.”

After two years with Y-Min, Harrison started to feel as though God was equipping him for a larger role in CMLT. For his senior year, the 2023-24 school year, Harrison was selected by his peers to serve as president. It’s been a tenure that will be remembered fondly.

“Many great things have been accomplished this year in campus ministry, fueled by Harrison’s cooperative spirit, his winsome leadership, and, above all, his deep and committed faith,” said CUW Campus Pastor Steve Smith. “His kind spirit and gentle yet confident way of leading have been a blessing to many.”

The path ahead

Sarah and Harrison

So, what started as a daunting, uncertain, Covid-restricted journey to a distant new land will finish with confidence, honors, accomplishments, and legacy. He’ll be heading to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis in the fall, after which he plans to become a parish pastor, at least for a while. He’ll be accompanied by his new bride, Sarah Wallace (’23). The couple met as freshmen, started dating during their sophomore year, and plan to be married in June of this year. (Sarah is a Lutheran Education graduate who completed her degree in just three years!)

“Sarah is an amazing woman and has been a huge part of my time here,” Harrison said. “She has helped me through the tougher times, helping me process things about my dad’s death, showing me my blind spots and the things God is calling me to do that I wouldn’t otherwise recognize. I can’t thank her enough for that.”

Through it all, the key element has been faith. It’s fitting that this year’s campus theme and theme verse—“In Every Way, God’s Path” (Proverbs 3:5-6)—reflects his own path so well. It’s something Harrison’s dad would certainly approve. And be proud of.

“The amazing thing about my dad’s illness was, throughout his treatment he was not just a spoken witness but a living witness, a testament to his faith in Jesus,” Harrison said. “Even at his celebration of life, a lot of people came because they saw Jesus in him. And that definitely left a mark on them.”

Just as Harrison will no doubt, through his own spoken words and living witness, leave a mark through his service to Christ in the Church and the world.

Want in?

As a school of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), Concordia University Wisconsin strives to present the clearest expression of God’s Word centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as our Savior as is stated in the Lutheran Confessions. You can expect members of the Theology Department to teach the timeless truth of the Bible with energy and warmth, applying the Gospel message to each student’s life. To learn more about the Theology Department, click the link below.