The end of the year is a hectic time for students, but it offers us an important opportunity for reflection. The end of 2014 hopefully gave the opportunity to achieve academic goals, solidify personal achievements and prepare ourselves for what 2015 has in store. As I begin the new year, I want to share with you what my goal for 2015 is: to not be a hero.
The idea for my goal came to me this November when a group of 21 students including myself, led by sophomore Hannah Sheppard and senior Joseph McGrath, went to the 17th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ) Conference in Washington, D.C.
Our trip — graciously sponsored by the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice — took us to the capital to join a coalition of Jesuit high school students, college students and prominent social justice advocates passionate about creating change.
Many times when I see news about events like this, I wonder how effective they really can be in just one weekend. Do people just get together to say they tried?
The students I encountered, both with the Xavier delegation and other groups, changed my conception of how a person should live.
Our conference’s theme focused on the commemoration and 25th anniversary of the murders of six Jesuit priests, their cook and her daughter at the Central American University in El Salvador in November, 1989. We commemorated their murders because we view their deaths as examples of how powerful everyone’s life can be.
The Jesuits used their message of social justice not be heroes, but to show people how passivity leaves society at a disadvantage. Social issues fester because far too often people believe their individual roles are useless. They then decide to be passive and create an environment where these issues are allowed to grow instead of being collectively addressed by society.
IFTJ included notable speakers including famed author James Martin, S.J. and Honduran human rights activist Ismael Moreno Coto, S.J. However, for me the most powerful speeches came from college students.
Student participants led breakout sessions covering several social justice issues, often encouraging audience members to go beyond merely reading a PowerPoint to be present with the people around them and engage in meaningful conversation. Xavier First-year Devon James commented that her discussion session on peacemaking made her realize that phrases like “plan of attack” or “shot in the dark” add unnecessary violence to daily conversations.
We understood that no matter how big or small the issue is, it does not take a massive political movement to create change. The power to change our society lies with us because we are the agents that create it.
Our conference ended with a trip to Capitol Hill to meet with Sen. Rob Portman’s legislative aid, Kurt Freshley. While it was beneficial to meet with Mr. Freshley, even President Obama has publically stated that real reform takes place with the people; government can only do so much. He’s right.
This isn’t me preaching or regurgitating phrases we’ve heard most of our lives, this is me stating a fact: individuals are the true agents of change. Collective action, like that seen at IFTJ, represents the model toward which we all should strive.
If you’re concerned about environmental reform, ask Xavier to turn off lights after hours. If you’re afraid to discuss racial issues because of awkwardness, don’t be. Passive attitudes give consent for injustice. I’m not arguing for everyone to be a hero. I want people to start living with open eyes, not waiting for a hero to solve issues individuals can address themselves.
Prior to our departure from Washington, D.C., Xavier senior Kaitlyn Fitzgerald commented, “It’s awesome to see people who are passionate about the same things as you and see the impact students like us are having on the world.”
I agree with her. We should not strive to be a generation of heroes, but a generation that is determined to end passive attitudes. As you kick off a new semester, I implore you to make a goal to make 2015 the year you are engaged with the needs of those around you. Don’t just “share” on social media — or even write a Newswire piece — listen and live in solidarity with your fellow man. Engagement, not heroism, is what ultimately makes a difference.