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Xavier Ruined Me

By Ryan Lavalley
On April 13, 2012

I'll try not to make this too sappy or too nonchalant, but do

forgive me if I break from keeping it real. I walked onto this campus determined to become a "service geek." I wanted to help people who were less "blessed" than I, not

because they needed me, rather because I wanted to be

seen doing it. I wanted to be known as the kid doing "justice- y" things and "feeding" the homeless. I wanted

to know the answers so that I could proclaim them from a

high horse. Needless to say, I was not the most pleasant person to be around my freshman year. However, this University, its people, professors, staff and programs and this city had a way of slapping me in the face when I lifted my nose as the one who "knew" the answers. I walked into Alter Hall for my first day of Dr. Hahnenberg's Theo 111 class believing I knew what it was to be Catholic, Christian or even atheist. In that class began a deconstruction, not destruction of my faith. Since then, I have spent the past four years attempting to reconstruct that faith with a stronger foundation based in compassion and critical

thinking, rather than misdirected passion and blind following. Then I found a group of Xavier students called

Labre who visited the people living on the streets of

Cincinnati. At first, I assumed a savior complex, making

my trips downtown more about me and my knowledge than compassion and love toward the human beings we were seeing. But there is something about having to answer a homeless man blatantly asking, "Why are you here? Why are you helping me?" That forcefully removes paternalism,

ignorance, and bigotry. I returned to campus searching for

the answers to those questions with the support of the Xavier community. I once took pride in being compared to a tour guide while leading a group on Labre, pride in "feeding" the needy; now the idea that I presented those humans beings almost like zoo animals and I their caretaker makes me grind my teeth in guilt. Then,

Nicaragua. There was a moment that very distinctly put

into words what Dr. Hahnenberg and Labre seemed to

be forcing me to understand. I stood next to a stone wash bin, washing my clothes. A Nicaraguan family member asked, "Why do you wash your clothes when you could pay the woman who comes to wash ours?" I replied, "It's part of the experience." That word experience hit me in the face like a sack of rabid weasels. I saw poverty and injustice as an experience, resume builder, extracurricular and boasting

point. I questioned the core of the foundational beliefs that

were driving my actions. Today, some of you may peg

me as a liberal who hates Nike, the kid who is always complaining about the university, or that random occupational therapy student spouting justice theory, but

I hope you can see that it was my experience at this University that forced me to engage in dialogue about these important issues. It was the Jesuit ideals and Catholic social teaching that the Jesuit education was founded on that, as Father Dean Brackley, S.J. says,

"ruined" me for life by thrusting me into the presence of the poor. However, the beauty of a true Jesuit education is that it offers ruin with rebirth, offers tools to wade through the anger, guilt and frustration caused by realizing the reality of injustice in our world. The faculty, staff, administration

and student body, for me, are a community of challenge

braced by the foundation of the Jesuit tradition, teaching me every day to look past what society tells me an occupational therapist should be and question how and why I will live out my career for and with others. We all have a

responsibility to challenge one another to live up to the ideals that a Jesuit institution should be founded on. So my thoughts; if you are a freshman sitting in Dr. Dewey's class and you think you know all the answers, a sophomore

who thinks you know what it means to serve the poor, a

junior who believes wholeheartedly in true solidarity, or a senior who knows exactly what you will be when

you grow up, pause, listen and let the Jesuit education

begin or continue to ruin you for life. We all have those

moments; mine were with a theology professor, homeless man and Nicaraguan. Yours may be with other people at other times, but these moments are the ones that define us as Jesuit-educated students. Soon you will realize most

of us seniors have way more questions than answers, and it is knowing which questions to ask that a Jesuit education has taught us. Are you asking the radical questions? Are you holding yourself, your university and your communities accountable to love and justice? Will you know why you do your job, not just how? These are the questions a Jesuit

education has taught me to ask and I realize now that when they fail to be asked the value, tradition, uniqueness and identity of a Jesuit education is lost.

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