August 28, 2012

Kate's Story

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My name is Kate Essig, and I'm going to be a junior here at Saint Louis University. Two years ago, I was sitting where you are sitting, eating and learning about the Jesuit mission for the first time. But to be honest, I was way more enthusiastic about getting my ID card than I was to sit down and learn about SLU's Jesuit identity. I was looking way more forward to getting my course schedule than I was to learn about the Jesuits. And after attending an all-girls school for eight years, I was way more excited about going to school with boys for the first time than I was to go to school with Jesuits for the first time. But now? Two years later, I can tell you that my favorite thing about SLU, more than classes or that ID card or yes, even the boys, my favorite part about SLU is the Jesuit mission.

What is our Jesuit mission? When I was 18, Jesuit was not a word I was real familiar with in any language and I'd taken two in high school. I know some of you may be graduates from Jesuit high schools who are experts on what a Jesuit education looks like, but bear with the rest of us for about 30 seconds while I share a little bit of background information.

A Jesuit university is a Catholic university run by members of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuit Order. Jesuits teach, hold administrative positions, take classes, advise student organizations and do fun things like host barbecues and trivia nights. A Jesuit identity can be broken down like this: One vision, one voice, many stories. The vision is of the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus in 1540. Their vision is one of pursuing truth for the greater glory of God and service to humanity. But the Jesuit stories? Those are ours. Here is mine.

I chose SLU because I liked the people, I liked the campus, I liked its proximity to the Fox Theatre and I liked the food I got here during visit programs. The mission, whatever it was, was second tier to what I thought I would get out of my college experience. But after two years and a little bit of reflection, I've realized that our Jesuit identity has seeped into every aspect of my life here at SLU.

It's in the classroom. And it's not just in Theological Foundations 100 or Ethics or in social justice coursework. The Jesuit mission, somewhat sneakily, crept its way into all of my courses. When I first started taking theatre classes, we weren't just talking about playwriting and scenery making; we were discussing how theatre can be used to create dialogue, how it can be used in after-school programming for those in need, how it can even be a humanizing force for good in prisons. In my Econ 190 class we weren't just talking about graphs and charts and supply and demand; we were talking about how being able to invest in a college degree is a privilege, and with that privilege comes the responsibility to use that degree for a higher purpose.

Simply put, I'm not just being fed knowledge. I'm being given tools to take that knowledge and build a better world. I'm not just being taught concepts so I can graduate in two years, I'm being taught what I can do with my education to be a better person, a more informed citizen and a more active advocate for doing what is right.

But let's be honest, a college experience is more than just attending classes. Even out of the classroom, I'm still a SLU student and the Jesuit mission still applies. The Jesuit mission is a part of my extracurricular involvements, to learning about customer service in the admissions office to teaching a kids' choir with my a capella group. The Jesuit mission is manifested through spring break service trips, through continuous service to the St. Louis community and through the crowds of students who, no matter what their faith tradition might be, join together to celebrate 9 o' clock mass on Sunday nights.

Mostly, though, I experience the Jesuit mission through the little things. Through the kid that helped me move out of my room even though we didn't know each other's name. Through the cafeteria workers in the Griesedieck dining hall who go out of their way to make sure, every day, that we students are smiling. Through a professor who, after noticing I was quiet in class one day, sent me an email to make sure I was doing okay. I experienced the Jesuit mission, when during my freshman year I went to sleep in tears and woke up to see that my new roommate, who I barely knew, had left me eight post-it notes on my guard rail telling me that she hoped I had a good day, that she cared about me and she was here if I ever wanted to talk.

At SLU, you will be surrounded by a safety net of support that's there whether you think it is or not, and whether you want it to be or not. There were a couple of times my freshman year when all I wanted to do was lock myself in my room and surrender to a C in a class just cause I was feeling tired and overwhelmed. Then my RA would knock on my door, my roommate would draw me a picture and I'd have to come to terms with the fact that even if I wanted to fail, there were people here who had higher standards and higher expectations for me.

But there's a flipside to all of this unconditional support, and that flipside is, you guessed it, a Jesuit thing. The flipside of that unconditional support is this: you will be valued, but you will be challenged. Challenged in the classroom to act on the knowledge you've received, challenged in your extracurriculars to find new ways to serve as leaders, challenged as a friend to grow into a person of the highest integrity.

New Billikens, whether you know it or not, today you started on a journey that I am both sorry and excited to tell you will never end. When you graduate in four years you will be declared a son or daughter of Saint Louis University forever. That forever starts today, now, with SLU 101. The Jesuit mission is ours to share, but the story of how that mission is played out is yours. As a student, will you be a role model to your peers? As a leader, will you practice humility? As a member of our community will you reach out to the marginalized? And as a son or daughter of Saint Louis University, will you share in our call to serve?

These are just a couple ways to live out our mission. I've been here two years and I'm still finding new ways to be a better servant leader everyday; and I'm sure for the next two years and for the next twenty years, I'll continue finding new ways to live out the Jesuit mission.

During your SLU career your passions can find purpose, your energy can take action and your vision of better future can begin to be realized. How will you do it? Our mission is shared but the journey is your own. Remembering always, that the entire SLU community is with you on the way. New Billikens, bon voyage.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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