Sheryl Russell was the 1974 valedictorian of San Diego Christian College (SDCC), formerly Christian Heritage College. Sheryl laughs at the competition for valedictorian as there were only 2 graduates in the school’s inaugural 4-year graduating class!
Sheryl was born in the Philippines to a Navy family and lived overseas until the age of 5. She was raised in a conservative family but did not attend church regularly—only at holidays such as Christmas and Easter. “My family values were strong, but not Christian,” she recalls.
Sheryl became a Christian when she was a senior in high school. “God is always wooing us and I had a hunger for Christ,” she said. While attending a Youth for Christ Bible study led by former NFL player, Ray Schmautz, Sheryl prayed a simple prayer accepting Christ as Lord.
Ray recommended that Sheryl begin attending Scott Memorial Baptist Church, but she did not take his advice until five months later after hearing Dr. Tim LaHaye speak at the wedding of a family friend. Sheryl remembered, “His message at the wedding was awesome.” After discovering that Dr. LaHaye was pastor of Scott Memorial, she knew where she wanted to attend the church. “God knew what He was doing,” she stated. “I was a wet sponge and could not get enough. I attended evenings and weekends and got involved with various church groups. It was just what I was looking for.”
After graduating from high school in 1969, Sheryl began attending San Diego State University (SDSU). Although she was interested in attending the newly-founded San Diego Christian College, her parents were unsure about the school and felt they could not afford the tuition. One afternoon while picking Sheryl up from SDSU, Sheryl’s father caught a glimpse of her psychology professor. “He was dressed like a hippie,” Sheryl remembers. “Dad became immediately convinced that I should attend a conservative Christian school.” With financial help from a family friend, Sheryl was able to start her studies at SDCC in the fall of 1970.
Sheryl has fond memories of her time at SDCC, especially of a summer trip to India in 1972. After reading about Amy Carmichael’s work with orphanages in India, Sheryl contacted Underfell, a small orphanage founded by Carmichael. Sheryl said, “I wrote the orphanage a letter and later spent three months teaching Bible classes and just being a part of the orphans’ lives.” In addition to her trip overseas, Sheryl accompanied missions groups to Mexico and served as a counselor at a Summer Servants camp.
While attending SDCC, Sheryl also worked for the newly-started Institute for Creation Research (ICR) with Dr. Henry Morris. Sheryl said that her work with ICR helped her cultivate her “natural ability to organize” and gain valuable business experience.
Sheryl met her future husband and business partner, Paul, while preparing for a mission trip with Scott Memorial Church. “Paul and I were still in high school and he was two years younger, but he impressed me…a guy with such a passion for the Lord.” They were friends for two years before they started dating and were married three years later. Paul and Sheryl have been married for 36 years and have four grown children, and three grandchildren.
After Sheryl received her education degree from SDCC and Paul received his Communication degree from SDSU, they both took teaching positions at Christian High School. In 1980, Paul produced a musical with Christian High. It was this experience that launched what has become Paul and Sheryl’s lifelong work. Paul’s passion for musical theater and Sheryl’s good business sense have provided the impetus for Christian Youth Theater and Christian Community Theater.
Christian Youth Theater (CYT) is an after-school theater arts training program for students ages 4-18. Since its founding in 1981, CYT has grown to be the largest youth theater program in the nation with affiliates across the country training thousands of students each year. CYT offers theater arts classes focusing on/in drama, voice, dance and providing a broad spectrum of specialty theatrical experiences. Enrolled students have the opportunity to work behind the scenes or audition and perform on stage in a Broadway-style musical performed for the community. Christian Community Theater (CCT) provides local performance and entertainment opportunities featuring San Diego adult and youth talent. CCT/CYT partnered with SDCC to launch the Musical Theater major in 2005. SDCC students now have the unique opportunity to work closely with CCT/CYT as they perform, take classes and learn the business of musical theater.
Sheryl has been acknowledged for her business accomplishments by the Women Together organization for her work in the arts and has received the Channel 10 Leadership Award. She was also honored as Mother of the Year by March of Dimes. She is currently serving as a “mentor mom” for the Mothers of Preschoolers organization (MOPS). San Diego Christian College is now privileged to honor Sheryl with the 2011 Alumnus of the Year award. SDCC is celebrating 40 years, and it is very fitting that the first valedictorian is being honored with this award.