A few years ago, I learned that Marquette polls incoming students to find out why they choose Marquette. Many cite the university’s commitment to community service as a major incentive, as well as its top-tier basketball program. I like to think a few Chris Farley fans enrolled after seeing Tommy Boy.
The question led me to reflect on my motivation for choosing Marquette. Scholarship opportunities were a factor, as was my interest in the school’s journalism program. More than anything, though, I came for the community.
My parents spent part of their undergraduate years at Marquette, and my dad graduated from the School of Dentistry. Some of my earliest memories and closest relationships were born out of the friendships my parents made then. For as long as I can remember, going to Marquette basketball games with my dad meant meeting his old college friends at halftime. Annual Christmas gifts were Ardmore Bar T-shirts. During summer gatherings at the cabin belonging to the man who introduced my parents, we children watched while the adults briefly revisited their 22-year-old selves.
The takeaway was clear — Marquette not only provided an invaluable education and four years of fun, but also a formative experience and lifelong community. I wanted that.
I got my wish in spades.
I met friends in the residence halls, classes, study abroad programs in South Africa and Italy, jobs with The Marquette Tribune and the Office of Student Development, and extracurricular service experiences. During my senior year, I lived in a house with seven guys I met while living in McCormick and Schroeder halls. We made our mark by inviting then-president Rev. Robert Wild, S.J., to a dinner party. Inexplicably, but much to his credit, he joined us for supper, video games and conversation about all things Marquette.
As difficult as it was to graduate, I left campus content. Though I felt some concern that time, distance and the inevitable life shifts might not always bring change for the better, I was confident that the lessons and friends I made at Marquette would always be with me.
Interestingly, I threw the biggest wrench into the possibility of me and my friends staying close after Commencement. Though one friend took a job in San Francisco and another found a position in Florida, I decided to move to a little village in the Peruvian Andes to teach at a secondary school with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
My attraction to volunteerism can no doubt be traced to my Jesuit education, not to mention Marquette’s service opportunities that consistently emphasize the importance of being a woman or man for others.
Equal to these factors was my interest in building community. JVC has four pillars — justice, faith, simplicity and community — that unite to form the foundational theme of a volunteer’s experience. The idea is to seek justice for the people we serve; be witnesses to our faith; lead simple lives; and participate in community with fellow volunteers and friends, colleagues, students and neighbors from our host countries. I saw JVC as an opportunity to be a member of another vibrant and authentic community — much like Marquette.
In November 2011, I moved to Andahuaylillas (pronounced On-duh-why-lee-us), a small town of approximately 5,000 people located roughly 30 miles from Cusco. In Peru, I came to feel a deep and genuine sense of fellowship with the students in my English, computer, religion and verbal reasoning classes, as well as with the other teachers and staff at the local school and parish. I grew to be invested in the lives of my Peruvian neighbors, and I lived with volunteers from the United States, Spain, Great Britain and France. I feel incredibly blessed to have learned from and shared in community with all of these people.
Coming from an accomplishment-based, North American mentality, it was refreshing to enter a culture where people are valued not for what they do but for who they are. I often found that as necessary as were the activities I completed while working in the school or parish, it was the time I spent chatting with women who sold their crafts in the plaza or hanging out with children and playing kiwi, a kick-the-can-like game, that was the most important part of my service.
It is a foregone conclusion that almost everyone who goes to another country for service work will eventually return home. Many questions plagued me well before departing my host country, not least of which was how to carry what I experienced in a way that honors both those I was serving and the loved ones to whom I was returning. Fear of culture shock left me worrying that I might not ever be able to function normally in North American society again.
My concerns were eased when the United States came to visit me in Peru last January in the form of five of my Marquette friends. Many people said they would visit when they heard my plans to move out of the country, but I did not expect anyone to actually make the trip. I had a fantastic week with Matt Hixson, Jeff Jasurda, Tom Molosky, Mike Muratore and Gabe Sanchez. We went to Machu Picchu, checked out Cusco, visited churches built hundreds of years ago and delved into local cuisine. It was wonderful to see those familiar faces and hear what they had been up to since graduation.
Some of my favorite moments of the week we spent together, though, involved seeing my two communities meld. I loved watching when my Marquette friends bought souvenirs from my Peruvian friends. An impromptu soccer game that sprang up between my visitors, some of my students and me was another highlight of the week.
Pretty soon, the week was over and, like at graduation, it was hard to say goodbye to my American friends. I had grown accustomed to them being with me in Peru. I knew it would be a long time before I would see them again. But any doubt I harbored about maintaining college friendships after college is resolved. The same sort of lasting community of friends that my parents formed as students in the 1970s, which I hoped to duplicate, is mine.
College is such a brief snapshot of life — four, maybe five years. People come to Marquette seeking fulfillment in countless ways, and they leave to pursue many different endeavors. What I learned from the alumni I met through my parents and now from my own circle of friends is that what keeps us coming back and coming together long after we graduate is a shared sense of community.