Clad in a green jacket, plaid shirt, blue jeans and brown glasses, Lawrance Wishneff is a frequent and friendly face around PLNU’s campus. Over the past seven years, Lawrance has been greeting students with his signature style.
“Do you have friends?”
Lawrance asks this question to every newcomer he meets, along with a sincere “I just want you to be happy.”
Usually being seen in places like the cafeteria about three times a week, and attending chapel twice a week, it is not hard to spot Lawrance as he meanders around campus or while he greets students and teachers on Caf Lane.
Lawrance, who will quickly report his condition of severe autism to everyone he talks to, seems to be doing so in an effort to be understood and accepted among his friends. He finds these friends in PLNU students and in the leaders and fellow attendees of the Capernaum branch of the organization Young Life.
Madeline Lenz, a junior graphic design major at PLNU and a student leader at Capernaum Young Life, knows Lawrance well.
“I think he discovered Point Loma and he just kind of realized that people here would care for him and would let him into the cafeteria and would take him to chapel and just help him be in community,” said Lenz.
According to Lenz, Lawrance grew up on the East Coast with his family in a time where autism was not readily understood or identified. He reportedly attended a number of different schools, and had a hard time being understood by other people. Lawrance grew up with two parents and two siblings, a brother and sister. He remembers his parents fondly, even while he had his challenges.
“I think about my Dad almost every day,” said Lawrance. “He cared and did the best he could do.”
Lawrance has been living in San Diego for about decade or so now, and while his parents have both passed away, he is still in contact with his sister.
When Lawrance is not on campus, he can be found at the house in Ocean Beach he has been provided with by a local church. He regularly attends the churches in the area, particularly Newbreak Church. However, Lawrance reports feeling most understood here on PLNU’s campus.
“I think the outside world had a big influence on his self confidence and on his outlook of what autism might look like,” said Lenz. “He grew up in a time where people did not really understand.”
However, Lawrence finds understanding on campus, as, each year, new students befriend Lawrance and provide him with the consistent community he so vocally seeks.
Lawrance brags that he “knows more freshmen than anyone.” He can be seen smiling with some of these students on his Instagram page, @lawrancewishneff.
Qlehd Guiwa, a sophomore majoring in global business management and Christian studies, is one such student Lawrance sites as his friend.
“If it would be his last day tomorrow, if I was the last person he would see, I would want him to have a good conversation and somebody telling him that ‘I am your friend,’” said Guiwa.
Lenz echoes the same sentiments. She encourages students to befriend Lawrance, as he embodies friendship in the purest form.
“He will go on about how he is lonely and has no friends, but everyone loves him,” said Lenz. “He’s the best friend ever. He will say the same six things, but sometimes you can get a little bit of something new and those are the things I really hold onto.”