Above: the city of Oakland–downtown, West Oakland and the Port
As I think back to the beginning of my first year at Xavier, I mentally travel back to a time in my life full of uncertainty. I had to move hours away from my childhood home, leave behind friends I had known for years, and adjust to a whole new way of life on my own. I can easily recall my first night in Brockman Hall, staring up at the ceiling of the cramped cinderblock room that I shared with two new roommates. I had trouble sleeping, both due to fear and anxiety about the days ahead, but also to anticipation. I was on the verge of beginning a brand new life adventure, where I was in charge of determining the type of person that I wanted to be. I hadn’t felt that kind of eagerness since I believed that Santa Claus and his reindeer were landing on my snowy roof with a sleigh full of goodies every 25th of December. Then, in a blurry flash of memories, like fast-forwarding an old video cassette tape, it’s been over two months since I, along with the rest of the Xavier University Class of 2014, walked across the Cintas Center stage, greeted Father Graham, received an empty diploma holder (to be filled a few weeks later), and was startled by the surprisingly loud confetti launchers marking the end of the commencement ceremony. After the confetti fell, the community of the class brought together and formed at Xavier blasted off in many new directions, much like the confetti from the launcher.
Since that partly sunny day in May, I find myself thinking back most often to that August as a first year student at Xavier as I prepare to begin my first post-grad life adventure. I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed some tears in those first days and weeks on my own at college. No amount of preparation or practice makes moving on to something new feel easy. In all honesty though, we are always moving on. Each day, we wake up, make choices and decisions that get us through the day, and as long as we have enough sand left in the hourglass of our lives to make it to our next sleep, we have changed. I certainly don’t think that I have changed much since this morning, but if I look back at the weeks, months, and years that have passed, I am most certainly a morphing and transforming being.
I came into college as an undecided major, and I enjoy telling people that I graduated college even more undecided about my future career path as when I began. It truly was the Jesuit education that I received that transformed my mind and guided me to the place that I stand today. Before enrolling at Xavier, I barely understood who the Jesuits were, and had no idea what the words “social justice” meant. It was the feel on campus that made me decide that it was the place for me, and I sought out volunteer opportunities in Cincinnati merely to meet new people and continue doing work that had been fulfilling to me during high school. I joined a first-year weekly service program that brought me out to a new service site every two weeks, allowing me to work with a variety of organizations and witness the issues that challenged my new neighbors. I began to ask more questions, many of those questions without easy answers, like St. Ignatius, one of the founders of the Jesuits. This was a difficult task that challenged the views that I held about the world. The more I learned, the more I felt myself being changed and molded by the experiences. While I saw the immediate impact of my direct service, I began to see the limitations of direct service and the need for greater social change to break down the barriers to equal opportunities. This introduction to social justice ignited a spark within me and I began to see the connection between social issues and topics of ethics and justice that I studied in my classes. To further engage in this connection between my education and the world around me, I got involved with the alternative breaks program at Xavier. I found that my experiences with alternative breaks allowed me to see how complex social justice issues could be. In learning and engaging with a topic for nearly half a year before spending my week-long spring break immersed in service, simple community living, and reflection on each day’s experiences, I felt that this type of service was something that I wanted to do for a longer period of time. It was near the end of my sophomore year that I began to hear graduating students talk about doing a volunteer year. I didn’t know that I had any options beyond going to graduate school or getting a “real world” job. I still didn’t know what kind of profession I felt called to do, so I began looking into programs. From my experiences at Xavier and learning about the mission and experiences of Jesuit Volunteers, I felt that Jesuit Volunteer Corps was the right organization for me and the right step for me to take after graduation. I spent time reflecting on this next step in my life, something that I take with me from Xavier. I truly feel that God has called me to serve in this way. Late nights in the CLC, walks to and from classes, and 10 PM student masses at Bellarmine Chapel all provided me quiet moments for thinking through my decision. Being a Jesuit Volunteer challenges me to keep asking difficult questions, to stretch myself to face difficult situations, and to open myself up to a new community of volunteers and neighbors. I know that it will not be easy, but I know that serving others, while challenging, comes with great rewards, both for the community and for me. I expect a transformation of heart, mind, and spirit as I work to come to a deeper understanding of the world around me.
So why do I keep going back to my first night in my freshman dorm room? As the beginning of my volunteer year swiftly approaches, I lay awake at night feeling almost exactly as I did that night four years ago. I will be leaving my comfortable routine once again for the unknown. This unknown will undoubtedly change me and I hope will continue mold me into the person God calls me to be. Whether you are approaching your first year of college, facing your first post-grad adventure, or figuring out what your next step will be, I encourage you to enjoy the anticipation, fear, and excitement of moving on to something new. Be open to the joys and challenges that it brings, and shine God’s light as you face each new day.
Eileen Borczon is a recent XU graduate who will be spending the next year as a Jesuit Volunteer in Oakland, CA as a case manager serving seniors experiencing homelessness. A native of northwestern Pennsylvania, she is very excited to soak up the sunshine and new experiences of the year ahead. In her spare time, she enjoys singing in the shower, watching cat videos, and having long conversations with friends. To follow her JV journey, check out her blog (eileenborczon.blogspot.com).