fadjhRecently, I heard a fellow Jesuit give a homily about the gift we are meant to be to one another. His words confirmed a reality I have come to cherish in my own life: Throughout our ordinary days, we are surrounded by other women and men who are gifts — not just parts of the crowd, not competitors for grades and distinctions, not simply someone to follow on Twitter and not someone to avoid when someone more interesting comes along at a party. The idea that other people in my life are gifts fascinates me. If I look back over the years, I see all the people who’ve populated my history not as a cast of characters but as good folks who taught me how to understand life, how to support others, how to laugh through my tears and sorrows, how to extend myself in compassion and care and how to forgive and be forgiven.

I think, too, of the depth of meaning in Jesus’s parables about the treasure hidden in a field and about the really fine pearl lodged in the depths of the sea, and I have come to appreciate that our souls are the field and that our hearts are the deep sea of recollection and memory. Taking time to seek the treasure that other people have brought into our lives and to plumb the depths of the mysterious ways that others have taught us who we are, what we really love, what we value and what dreams we reverence — that is graced time.

I know that I’ve become more sensitive to the importance of remembering and reverencing the way people have taught me about God, about the Gospel, about religious experience and about the choices that make us just and committed to a world of peace and reconciliation.

Education is not only about information, data, skills and technical competencies. It’s also about discovering your own narrative in life and the ethical and religious influences that have inspired, challenged and empowered you to claim your own identity and confirm your own deepest desires. Yes, there has to be a certain sense of performing in academic life; that is, you must meet the expectations and engage the demands of a discipline, a professor, a mentor, a boss, a culture, a system. There is a part of education that consists of coping with the protocol of making your way through a system.

True, some folks make their way by defying the system, and their narratives can become dominated by a sense of protest and rebellion. Sometimes, that is a good reaction. But in the long haul, it can — and too often does — become a wearying way of living. Constant rebellion evolves into perpetual anger, a penchant for searching out “the enemy.”

On the other hand, others capitulate; they give into the system, lose their self-identity and become whatever will fit. Capitulation as a coping mechanism can easily slip into self-deceit and buried dreams.

In our lives there are honorable, creative and nurturing people who teach us how to live so that we avoid the extremes of anger and frustration. Some of them — we hope many of them — will be your teachers and advisers; others are your parents and grandparents or uncles and aunts or sisters and brothers; still others will be in your residence halls, on your teams or part of your social life.

Years ago, I served as the project director for a Lilly Endowment grant dedicated to studying how young adults make life choices that integrate both competence and service. A tributary area of our study was finding ways to facilitate such decisions. In time, our team came to appreciate the power of narrative, not just for the college students but also for their older mentors, faculty and staff. Nothing was more effective in assembling these narratives than identifying and appreciating the impact that other people had on their young and older lives. The key questions are simple enough: “Who are the people who taught you how you want to live?” and “Why do you remember them?” Fundamentally, we hope that Georgetown will be a place where you can answer these questions by celebrating the treasures and gifts in life that are simply other people.

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