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Heroes & Friends - Chris Tomlin

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As I travel the country performing for huge audiences and working with talented and celebrated entertainers, I sometimes think about my days at Tyler Junior College and how I felt being 18 and indecisive.

I was fortunate enough to receive a Presidential Scholarship to TJC when I graduated Grand Saline High School. I was a little surprised to receive such a nice scholarship. I remember even having money left over after I paid for my classes that first semester.

But I felt a little uneasy at the time. Not about being at TJC but about my future and what it was that God was calling me to do. I knew I loved to play music and that I loved to make people laugh, but I wasn’t sure how to use those interests and talents and apply them toward a career.

My dad was always trying to encourage me to get a degree and “get a real job”. “This music is just a hobby,” he would tell me. So, I pursued a degree, knowing that he was probably right.

My scholarship counselor at TJC, Mary Beal, was such an influence on me. She was assigned to me and that was probably a scary job because I was coming into her office about every week with a new idea for what I wanted to become.

I thought at one time I would be a physical therapist; I thought I might be a counselor; I thought I might be a doctor. When I first came to TJC, in fact, I started out in the medical career path. I think about that now and it seems so funny. I wouldn’t have made it the second day; I would have fainted!

But some amazing things happened to me during those two years at TJC. I met some incredible people who really took the time to listen to me, to be patient with my indecisive nature and to encourage me.

I remember a speech class with Jacque Shackelford my first year. I’d never had a speech class like that and it was very interesting and it encouraged me to hone my communication skills. So, Jacque and M’Liss Hindman, another speech and theatre teacher, encouraged me to join the forensics team, and I did. We traveled across the country, performing in forensics meets with bigger schools and with students from all over the U.S. It was a great experience for me and I think I improved with every trip. We won several awards and we just had a blast being together.

It was during that time that I really think I started to form my identity. I went to California for the first time and it was a little unbelievable, this country boy from Grand Saline, Texas – a couple thousand people and a salt mine – and I’m competing in this meet in California.

I really loved it and I really loved my time at TJC. There were so many resources and so many friendships. I look back at that time in my life and I cherish it. They were great days of guidance and leadership. My instructors in the theatre department taught me how to stand before people and not get nervous. Of course, I still get nervous to this day, but I have the courage to face it.

By the time I graduated TJC, I was performing at churches and concerts and anywhere I could, just about every week. I transferred to Texas A&M and majored in psychology. It was difficult to balance my academic life with my music, but I made it through.

By the end of my junior year, things really began to happen in my music career. I was doing what I loved to do – play music – and I was writing songs and making connections with people.

I’m so glad I spent those first two years at TJC, and I will always remember those years as building days as really the foundation for setting the course in my life. Every time I go through East Texas I think of those days at TJC.

I know that today there are many other students who are just like I was. They’re young and they’re just coming in to their own, but they need others to help form them into the best they can be. I can’t think of a better place for a student to go to grow academically and personally than Tyler Junior College.

I am grateful for my time there and I think about TJC and the good people there quite often.

Chris Tomlin graduated TJC in 1992 and completed his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University in 1994. In 2005, Tomlin won his first Dove Award for excellence in Christian music when his Arriving album was named Praise and Worship Album of the Year. In 2006, he won five Dove awards, including Male Vocalist of the Year, Song of the Year and Album of the Year. He also received the TJC Alumni Association’s Valuable Young Alumnus Award in 2006. In 2007, he was again named Male Vocalist of the Year in addition to awards for Artist of the Year, Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year and Worship Song of the Year. In all, Tomlin and his band have won 16 Dove awards. In 2008, Tomlin and his band moved from Austin to Atlanta to start a new church with Passion Conferences speaker, Louie Giglio. His parents, Connie and Donna Tomlin, still reside in Grand Saline. Chris is returning to Tyler Oct. 7 for a concert at The Oil Palace. Visit or for ticket information