My most worthwhile educational investment
Letter to the Editor | Monday, September 26, 2016
Juniors, seniors, anyone thinking about the future: I’m not writing to convince you to spend time doing service. I am, though, hoping to share some thoughts that could help nudge you out of your own way if you’re hesitating to give some time to service when your Notre Dame graduation rolls around oh-so-soon.
In all the years and conversations leading up to my last year at Notre Dame, I had always presumed my next step to be law school. And until spring break of senior year, I was still barreling blindly down that path. Thankfully, the week-long CSC trip to a L’Arche home in DC gave me a glimpse into a different and lovely life, and thankfully, threw a glitch into my plan.
Around the world and in various cities in the U.S., L’Arche communities are built of homes where adults with and without intellectual disabilities live together to support each other in daily life. I was incredibly drawn to the joy and welcome and love in the homes I visited, accepted L’Arche’s open arms to me, and jumped headfirst into the journey one week after graduating. While I was taking a big step into the unknown, doing so may singularly be one of the best decisions I’ve made to date. I unwittingly gave myself the gifts of time and space to learn and think and care in ways I had not allowed while caught up in the school grind.
Today, my days look very different than my days at L’Arche and just about the only similarity is that I’m still in DC. Two years with L’Arche, two years of grad school, and a year of work later, I am on the legislative team of a U.S. Senator. Bit of a change, right? It sure is. But my growth at L’Arche is uniquely foundational to my current career success. L’Arche allowed me to discover new passions, but more importantly, helped me develop the skills that are making me more successful in pursuing these passions.
Hopefully this doesn’t surprise you, but people want to work with good people. Notice, I didn’t say “smart” people; I expect you’re all smart people, and frankly, there are lots of those in this world, disproportionately so in the industries and career paths Notre Dame students will choose. Being smart and having that strong education will open doors for you, but your humanity is what will get you invited through those doors. It remains eye-opening to find the “break” I was taking equipped me with far more desirable qualities than my many years of top-notch education, and I still find daily that my most used and most useful skills did not come from my 20 years in the classroom, but in fact from my two years giving time and self to community.
In these two years, I learned about grace. I learned about love. I learned about patience. I learned about people and how to care for one another’s humanness. I learned about priorities and what really, deeply matters to me and to others. I gained some chill, I gained some perspective on life, and I gained a group of strong and tender people with whom I still share regular dinners and celebrations and life. Without my L’Arche experience, I would be a different person. And would I want to work with that other version of me? No, not really.
I could continue on to share the ways in which employers have invited me through doors based on my service experience and how they identify that it has formed me. However, I hope you don’t choose service because it will get you ahead; I hope you are called to service from your heart. How a person chooses to invest their time reflects to the world, and the genuine desire for service shines a commitment to self and others that cannot easily be imitated. And the right people will identify this in you and seek you out for it, I promise.
In any and all of the wonderful, beautiful, life-giving service options from which you can choose, you have a world to gain in ways that classes and internships just won’t compare. Give yourself the gift of the time and the space to grow into a better version of yourself — you will be so much more prepared for the world and much more capable of navigating it gracefully. Could a year or two of service change you, maybe even change your plans? Yes, definitely — it likely will. And I challenge you to see that as a good thing. Really, see it as a great thing. Embrace and jump in!
If you are looking for a service opportunity to jump into, stop by the Postgraduate Service Fair to explore options with the 60 organizations that will be on campus to meet students like you. The Fair is Wednesday from 5 – 8 p.m., in the Joyce Center’s Heritage Hall (2nd floor concourse).
class of 2011
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.