August 28, 2012

Alex's Story

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My name is Alex Schenk, I'm a sophomore here at Saint Louis University. I am studying education and mathematics with a minor in Spanish. I would like to share with a little bit about you my experience and understanding of the Jesuit mission.

I went to a public high school so coming to Saint Louis University, I had no idea what the whole "Jesuit Mission" thing meant. It was not a factor when I was choosing a college, but after a year of attending SLU, I can tell you that it is something I value more than anything else. The Jesuit mission is what sets SLU apart from other universities. I am lucky to have had some experiences this past year that helped me sort of figure out what it all means. For me, the Jesuit mission is about living beyond my degree and serving a greater purpose.

When I came to campus last fall, I didn't know too many people, but I came with an open mind, ready to make new friends and have new experiences. The second weekend in September, Campus Ministry hosts a retreat called "Urban Plunge." It's a social justice retreat where students confront some of the issues that those living in poverty face everyday. Although I didn't know a single person going on the retreat, I signed up anyway. The retreat has both learning and service aspects. The first day we spent time touring impoverished areas of St. Louis and some time after reflecting on it. That night we slept on the floor of a church, and the following morning was the service aspect of the trip.

My service site was at the Karen House, which is a Catholic worker house for homeless women and children. We had the opportunity to interact with some of the women and children who were staying at Karen house, and that, I feel, was the most impactful part of the retreat.

There was one boy that I'll never forget; he was about 7 or 8 years old. I remember how excited the boy was to show us around, and show us how he could ride a bike. I could tell how much it meant to him just having a group of young students who wanted to listen to him and give him some attention. It's amazing how spending just a little bit of time with someone can have such an impact. Just as I'll remember how happy he was to play with us, I'll never forget the disappointment in the boy's face when he asked when we would be back to play again. It was like we had built the boy up for a letdown that he was all too familiar with... because the reality was that we would not be back, at least not anytime soon.

After we left, I couldn't stop thinking that experience. I thought about how that boy has already faced challenges in his life that are beyond anything I will ever face in my own. I thought about how fortunate I was to return to SLU and be surrounded by people who care so much about me. I've had so many resources and individuals that have helped me to succeed on my journey, but the sad reality is that many people don't have those same resources. Just by being here, we all have been afforded privileges that some will never have. That's the reason that I personally feel it necessary to pay it forward, and give back to the less fortunate; that's what the Jesuit Mission means to me.

The Jesuits believe in living amongst those whom they serve, so it's no accident that this university is located where it is. The City of St. Louis offers countless opportunities to grow as a person and serve others. There are volunteer opportunities in every field that one could study here at the University. That said, it's ultimately up to us to pursue these opportunities. It's okay to take risks and try something new. Every organization on campus does some sort of service so I'd encourage everyone to try and get involved because you can have some truly unforgettable experiences.

I'll wrap up by saying that SLU does more than prepare you for a successful career. The Jesuit education focuses on the "whole person" and goes much beyond academics. SLU strives to instill values within us so that this passion for service extends well beyond our four years here as undergraduate students and ultimately becomes a part of who we are as individuals. While being a Billiken has made me a better student, most importantly, it's made me a better person. New Billikens: you have a lot to look forward to.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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