Gifts and challenges of a Jesuit education

Cornfields. More and more cornfields. I weaved in and out of lanes as I passed semi-truck after semi-truck at 2 in the morning on 1-71 towards Cincinnati, Ohio. The spring of 2010. The last col¬lege visit of far too many. A young kid from the Washington, D.C., suburbs making the eight-hour trek with his father to check out the last college on the list: Xavier University. My dad — and faith¬ful co-pilot — was snoring like a hibernating bear by my side as we pulled into our hotel at 3 in the morning.

The next morning we woke up bright and early for our 8 a.m. tour, our eyes glazed over and cof¬fee clutched in our hands as if it were the elixir of life. My tiredness soon began to fade, partially because of the coffee, but more so as I stepped onto Xavier’s campus for the first time.

As I walked through the green¬space, I saw students hugging, high-fiving and smiling. I entered the Gallagher Student Center for the first time, and as I looked up to the top of the atrium, I began to envision myself as a Xavier student.

It’s hard to explain in words exactly why I picked Xavier, but deep down, it was a feeling in my gut and not necessarily my heart that convinced me that this university, this place with these people, was where I was supposed to be.

When I first walked into Brockman Hall, I was a boy, and I will leave this university a man. It’s not just because I can now grow a beard or go to bars on the weekends. It’s because when I was younger I thought I had all the answers, and now all of those answers have turned into questions. My time at Xavier was only the beginning of my process of questioning the world around me and my place within it.

For better or for worse, but I like to think for better, I believe in Xavier’s mission and the power of a Jesuit education. I’ve bought into the mission of being a man for and with others. Yes, at times I’ve had my doubts and reservations. I’ve wondered if I might have been brainwashed or if Xavier’s Jesuit mission is used solely as an advertisement for our university in the interest of making a profit.

Part of Xavier’s mission statement is to create “an inclusive environment of open and free inqui¬ry” and to “prepare students for a world that is increasingly diverse, complex, and interdependent.” Yet, I still am nervous and fearful that the “Xavier bubble” is only continuing to grow.

This upcoming academic year, students will be moving into new, luxurious apartments instead of living and learning among neighbors in Norwood. I’m nervous when students don’t show inter¬est in a semester program, living and learning in our own city in the neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine, but will gladly go party it up at Japp’s or Neons in that same neighborhood on a Friday or Saturday night. I’m also afraid that once we put up one fence around a basketball court, it will become the first of more fences, both figurative and literal, to come in the future.
Despite my reservations, I still believe that this university in a small city in the heart of this nation is preparing students to have a positive impact on the world. Xavier is an imperfect place, but I love it anyway. I love this community so much, and that is why I critique and question our university in hope that we will continue to get better as a community.

We must proceed with caution as we move forward and be mindful that tampering with the academic core doesn’t lead to our university losing its liberal arts tradition. Maybe some folks at this university wouldn’t mind doing away with the liberal arts tradition. I, however, believe that the liberal arts tradition is essential in allowing professors to guide students in cultivating lives that embrace reflection, compassion and informed action.

As I leave Xavier University, I go out knowing that in a world filled with tragic histories of imperialism, colonialism, racism and more, a savior mentality is not what we need. I will leave Xavier University walking humbly as a man continuing to learn, driven by a commitment to justice and a common good.

Brendan Kelly is a senior internation¬al studies major from Olney, Md.