SULLIVAN: History Holds Us Together
Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 08:11
Watching Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., take his final vows to the Society of Jesus this Saturday morning in Gaston Hall gave me a vision of Georgetown. This vision exemplified everything that I hoped to convey through this column; most importantly, the idea that Georgetown is more than an “elite research university” that sits on the perimeter of Washington, D.C.
As I watched O’Brien kneel to take his vows, I imagined all of the Jesuits before him who had professed those same words, walked these same halls and looked down on the same flowing Potomac River. Those great men who have guided our institution through 200 years of triumph and turbulence and have a commitment to Georgetown that many of us cannot begin to imagine.
What are the Georgetown Jesuits but the most visible form of the spirit of Georgetown? Members of the Georgetown community past and present have given Georgetown its magis — its “more” — not because they are individuals studying diverse and removed disciplines but because they are members of a community exploring common values. Through my stories, musings and discoveries, I have attempted to show that a respect and reverence towards the history of our alma mater is crucial to its continued flourishing. Our history grounds us and directs us; without it, our community stumbles toward vague and empty promises of “academic excellence.”
But before I lose myself in prose, I want to offer three recommendations in summation of my column. The first is that Georgetown needs a museum, no matter how big or small. Carroll Parlor is a start, but there needs to be a dedicated display area for the artifacts that have found their way into boxes, locked cabinets and basement vaults across campus. These hidden treasures are so diverse and so rich in history that I believe they hold some meaning for everyone in our community.
The second is that there need to be interdisciplinary seminars on the history of our alma mater and how it relates to various areas of academia. The School of Foreign Service is exploring the possibility of a course on the unique role Georgetown has played in American international relations. Imagine how inspiring it would be for students in each of the major disciplines to learn not about distant theories and discoveries but about the Hoyas before them that were pioneers in those very fields.
Finally, Georgetown should add a stronger and more in-depth history component to New Student Orientation. While it is already a packed few days, our newest students deserve an earlier opportunity to find their unique love for Georgetown so that their time here is even more valuable and meaningful.
What can these recommendations and a stronger sense of our place in Georgetown’s past and present offer? The first great “lesson” is that what happens on our Hilltop truly does influence the world. Founded at the time of our newly constituted nation, John Carroll built a school based in pluralism and religious freedom. The men who graduated from our tiny academy went on to be the most vocal political leaders defending our most treasured freedom: that of religion. After the devastation of the Civil War, Georgetown came together under the Blue and Gray to find the common heritage that was buried under the ashes of terrible war. Following World War I, Fr. Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., saw the need for Catholic diplomats to guide a morally sound and just foreign policy as America rose to global prominence. In the rapidly changing arena of American Catholic higher education, Georgetown was a pioneer in reaffirming the necessity of a “centered” pluralism and discovering how a Catholic university can continue to bring the Church to the world and the world to the Church in a new age. Understanding this can lead students to return from their Washington ambitions and re-engage themselves within the hallowed walls of this university.
The second great lesson is that we are Hoyas for more than four years. Many leave the front gates for distant countries and diverse callings, but if they have truly found the spirit of Georgetown, they know that the Hilltop is always a home to them. In my column, I have argued how the university can create stronger connections and passions that will stay with students for their entire lives.
But in the end, loving Georgetown will be easy for many of us because it has simply shaped who we are: unique men and women for others, grounded in the past of this great institution and humbled by those who have gone before us. By embracing our history, the idea of “Ghosts of Hoyas Past” will become irrelevant. Instead of Hoyas past and Hoyas present, there will only be Georgetown forever.
Kevin Sullivan is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. This is the final appearance of GHOSTS OF HOYAS PAST this semester.