This is part of a continuing series on "How to Succeed in College." Click on the author's name above for previous posts.
The first semester is now history. Friendships have been found, lost, and found again. Some—but not enough—books have been read. Masses have been missed, but spiritual experiences have been had. And, if we’ve had a good writing course, we can rewrite the previous sentences as: We have made and lost friends, read books, missed Masses, but learned to pray.
So this Christmas break is a time to think back, evaluate the first semester and get our act together and set goals for the Winter-Spring months ahead.
Last Fall the Jesuit university magazine Conversations--which is edited by a group of ten, including myself, and is sent to all 35,000 Jesuit faculty in the country--published an issue on the core curriculum. It included personal advice letters from each of the seminar members on how a son, daughter or other relative or friend should best use college time. When he read the issue, a prominent Jesuit high school president called to tell me that every college student in the country should read it. Here’s a brief summary. Ask any faculty member at any of the 28 Jesuit colleges or universities for a copy, or check online here (pdf download).
Margaret Davis, who teaches English at Spring Hill, urges you to find a faculty personal friend, someone you trust and like who is open to lasting relationships with students. Greg Carlson, S.J., at Creighton U., agrees with Margaret and adds: keep open a big book of great paintings in your room and write poems, essays and stories for fun.
Leslie Liedel, who teaches history at Wheeling U., says go away: live on campus and do junior year abroad—maybe Italy, maybe China. Jack O’Callaghan, S.J., at Loyola Chicago, says to make an “honest-to-God” retreat, meaning not one where you all talk all weekend, but where silence lets you get in touch with yourself and the God who guides you. Mark Scalese, S.J., who teaches film and video production at Fairfield, urges all to go on a service or immersion trip sponsored by the school. Encounter the poor in Latin America or an Indian reservation.
Some other challenges also call for a certain mental discipline. Mary K. Proksch, at the Regis U. nursing school, suggests that you think about your legacy, the totality of your life, the product of all the individual wise or unwise choices we make. Harry Dammer, in criminal justice at Scranton U., reminds you that that “the most important job for the next four years is to determine what it is you would LOVE to do with your life.” This will require you to spend some time alone, “turn off the electronic things that the world says you cannot live without.” Aparna Venkatesan, who teaches physics and astronomy at San Francisco, urges mindfulness—reflect, slow down and learn to be present to yourself.
I say to learn to swim very well. You may need it to save either someone else’s life or your own. Also, read a Big Fat Book—David Copperfield or Anna Karenina or The Brothers Karamazov. You may lose some sleep and miss some parties, but you’ll have an education.
Read together these letters presume certain things about the human person. That each of us is physical: we can run and swim and build houses for the poor. But we desperately need quiet time for reflection, something which the commercial culture of distraction battles desperately to block out. Winning this battle is the key to using these months as a time to grow.
Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.