At the beginning of every academic year, I make a few half-hearted but well-intentioned attempts to be an organized person. I make actual file folders, and dutifully put things in them for a few days. I make numbered lists of things to do. I promise myself that henceforth I will answer e-mails within 24 hours of receiving them.

Most of these late summer rituals have little lasting effect in my daily life. Still, they matter to me. They are welcome signals that the Hoya hordes have returned to the Hilltop.

There is one such office ritual that actually does make a difference for me. It takes some pointed prompting from my computer, though. Every year about this time, I am reminded by a pop-up message that my e-mail account is 91 percent full. Who measures this, I don’t know. John Ashcroft, perhaps.

In any event, the message sends me rooting through my computer files in a determined quest to rid my account of expendable bytes. In the process, I often re-read messages I have received and sent over the past few months. I always learn a lot from this August exercise.

It’s a cyber trip, of sorts, down memory lane. In Jesuit terms, an invitation to reflection.

So much happens so quickly on our Hilltop that if I don’t take a conscious and purposeful look back at what I’ve said and done in the course of a semester, the meaning of that semester can be lost for me.

I paid attention last week as I deleted my accumulated e-mail files. If something looked important, I reread it. I printed out a few of the e-mails students and professors had sent me: assorted notes, words of wisdom, poignant reflections – things I wanted to keep for further percolation. Most of the stuff, though, I coldly consigned to cyber oblivion.

But my attention was caught by one particular e-mail I sent this summer. It went to a rising junior in the College, an incoming transfer from the SFS.

As I reread that e-mail last week, something about it struck a deep chord within me. Something old and right. I thought about it for a long time. Then it dawned on me. It was not just a message from me. It was the echo of messages I had heard in varied ways from many teachers and professors, mentors and deans throughout my life as a student in Catholic schools.

The message was a manifestation, I think, of the spirit and tradition of Catholic education, burbling up insistently in my daily dealings with Hoyas.

The passage that caught my eye was part of a longer e-mail dealing with various practical academic concerns: general education requirements yet to be fulfilled, study abroad possibilities, “Incompletes” to be finished, etc. Before signing off, I offered some advice – advice that I now realize had been subtly offered to me again and again during my years as a student at Our Lady of Mount Carmel grade school, Brophy College Prep and Georgetown University:

This is a good time for you to pause purposefully and take stock of your Georgetown experience. Ask yourself questions along these lines: “What kind of person do I hope to be on graduation day? What sorts of things do I want to know by then? What qualities do I want to define the core of my character? Where do I hope to find myself vis-a-vis God, my family, my friends? What sort of progress have I made toward these goals over the past two years? What do I need to continue doing, what do I need to stop doing, what do I need to change if I want to make more progress toward those goals in the two (short!) years left for me as a Georgetown undergrad?”

These are the sorts of fundamental questions that animate any school in the Catholic and Jesuit traditions. These are questions that can lead you to a graduation day on which you have not only a job or a letter of acceptance from a graduate school, but a deep sense of who you are, what you’re about, who you were created to be. That’s why these are Georgetown questions.

Don’t be afraid to ask them.

Fr. Ryan Maher, S.J. (CAS ’82) is an assistant dean for the College. As This Jesuit Sees It. appears every other Friday.

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