August 28, 2012

Charlie's Story

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My name is Charlie Rice and I am a junior here at Saint Louis University. Tonight, I have volunteered to share some thoughts on the Jesuit mission and the role that it plays in my daily life at SLU. Coming from a Jesuit High School in Dallas, Texas, when I arrived at SLU, I was familiar with the Jesuit mission and all its taglines. However, from the moment I stepped on campus, I quickly discovered that I still had a lot to learn when it came to the mission and how I could use its meaning, not only have an impact on the community, but also to better myself during my four years here at SLU.

I would like to share two stories with you about how the Jesuit mission has played a crucial role in making my time here at SLU the joy that it has been. But before I do that, in order to better illustrate the point of these two stories, I'd like to ask you to think back to a time when you felt you were on the outside looking in. Like you weren't a part of the team, like you weren't familiar with anything or anyone. If you're like me, that time may be right now at SLU 101. Or maybe it was when you moved houses or changed high schools. Just take a brief moment to reflect on that experience.

The official mission of the Jesuits was once summed up as "the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement." However, one of the adopted mottos used day in and day out by people familiar with the Jesuit mission all over the world is "men and women for and with others." The second phrase comes from a speech given by Father Pedro Arrupe, then the leader of the Jesuits, in 1973 addressing the vision and direction of the Jesuits in a modern world. This speech wasn't just a nice happy talk about how the Jesuits should act; it was a challenge to the entire Jesuit community around the world to serve humanity and "the other" so that the world could be a better place.

Now this was certainly a large challenge, and the reason for telling the story behind the phrase "men and women for others" is to provide context as to why this saying has become such a huge part of how Jesuits and all those familiar with their mission approach education and service. Within that approach lays an intense focus on the concept of the "other."

It wasn't until I arrived at SLU that I really began to look back and question how I was using the phrase "men and women for others." Who is the "other"? Why is the other important? How can I not only be a man for others, but also with others? What is the difference? As I started to think more about the other, I started to asking myself these questions over and over, trying to sort it all out. But I found myself not being able to find an answer simply by means of thinking up an answer in my head. So, I decided to re-think the way I was looking for answers. I started looking at past experiences to try to understand how the phrase "men and women for others" had played a role in my life.

One of my most vivid memories of feeling like an outsider, like the other, was when I first arrived at SLU during Fall Welcome. It seemed like everything and everyone around me was moving at light speed, and I was stuck in the mud. There was so much going on, so many people to meet, so much to get involved in, and I just didn't quite know how to navigate it all. One thing I knew I wanted to be a part of, however, was the Admission Office. All through SLU 101 and the beginning of Fall Welcome, I had asked around and searched for a way to get connected to the Admission Office with little success. However, two days after moving into Marguerite Hall, I learned that one person I might want to talk to about admissions was an ambassador named Dani.

Now, to give a little background on Dani, at the time this girl was on the executive board of Oriflamme, I believe she was president of her business fraternity, she consistently worked over 20 hours a week, and on top of that and every other little project she managed, she still maintained above a 3.75 GPA. This girl was a rock star, and I was scared to death to ask her anything, let alone about how I could start working in the Admission Office. However, one night of Welcome Week, I finally worked up the courage to ask her about how I could get involved.

To say that her reaction "surprised" me would be an understatement. I was more overwhelmed and comforted than I ever thought possible. You see, after I asked Dani about getting involved, I was expecting some quick reference to a desk somewhere or a room in DuBourg that would inevitably take over an hour just to find. But Dani almost immediately stopped what she was doing and asked me to come sit down while she talked to me for 30 minutes about not only getting involved in the Admission Office, but also getting involved in other campus activities. In that moment I felt accepted, I no longer felt like I was new to SLU — I felt like I was part of the community.

Looking back now, I realize that in that situation, and in many like it, I was the "other" that Father Arrupe was referring to. New to SLU and new to college, I was excited about the coming year. But for every ounce of excitement, it seemed like a pound of fear for the unknown was placed on my shoulders. Dani, along with every other person who took time to listen to my concerns and excitement, helped to lift that weight until I didn't feel like the "other" anymore. However, I realized that it wasn't just me who felt like the other. Every new student at SLU that year more than likely experienced a similar situation to the one I just described. Every new student at SLU at one point was "the other."

Since that experience I have had countless like it, whether it was in meeting a new friend, struggling in a tough class or finding myself in a completely foreign environment. For example, fast forward nearly two years and 6,000 miles to a country so different from the U.S., that I found myself petrified until someone took time to serve "the other."

This past semester I had the privilege of studying at SLU's Madrid campus — an experience I recommend to everyone — and during that time I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey. As I said before, when I arrived in Istanbul I found myself nearly petrified in a city of over 15 million people, a city unlike any place I had ever been to. The weight of fear for the unknown hit me again — I felt like more of an outsider than ever before. That is until I met Emrullah Akgun. Emrullah worked at a restaurant that my friend and I had eaten at one night. The following day we saw Emrullah on the streets of Istanbul and much to my surprise, he offered to spend the day showing my friends and I around the city and making sure that we had a good experience in Istanbul. By the end of the day, he offered to let us stay in his house if ever we returned to Istanbul or anywhere in Turkey for that matter.

I cannot emphasize enough how welcome Emrullah made us feel. He single-handedly lifted the immense fear I felt and helped me to enjoy the day without the weight of "the other" on my shoulders. Almost immediately I realized that despite the fact that I was nearly six thousand miles away and despite the fact that "Jesuit" let alone "men and women for others" were words that Emrullah had probably never heard, I was experiencing the Jesuit mission.

Coming back and reflecting on these stories has taught me that the "other" that Father Arrupe was talking about could be anybody. When you arrive to campus in the fall, remember what it feels like to be "the other" and don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Don't be afraid to help carry the weight the unknown others may be feeling. The call to be men and women for others is a call to recognize the other, understand their needs and serve the other in the best way possible. At SLU, we have an amazing opportunity to serve the "other," to help those who feel excluded and those who are marginalized. As you enter the SLU community, think back to that moment when you were the other. Think back to how you would have wanted someone to welcome you, to see your needs, to act in a spirit of service. At SLU we strive to serve you, but underneath all that is a passion to serve the other.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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