Archive for August, 2015

Billiken Betrayals

Friday, August 7th, 2015

For a school that seeks to educate the whole person, they clearly didn’t care about the whole application.

I was wildly upset when graduate admissions didn’t look at my application as a whole and immediately threw me out of the race for a spot in their PA program because my science GPA was lacking. While I did not meet the minimum requirement, I had hoped someone would be able to look past some poor chemistry grades and see my passion and commitment to this career.

I spent weeks writing and rewriting an essay for their supplemental application that appears to not have been read at all. A lot of effort went into summing up my love of SLU, how impactful a Jesuit education was, and how much I want to be a PA, especially at SLU all within the limit of 2500 characters. Knowing that they didn’t read my essay hurt almost more than the rejection itself. I want to share my essay here so that it gets read:

Like most physician assistant programs, SLU requires applicants to take a handful of prerequisite courses, complete hours of direct patient care, and fulfill other technical standards. But unlike other physician assistant programs, SLU has a higher calling because of its Catholic, Jesuit mission.

An article published in The Atlantic entitled “The New Brand of Jesuit Universities” states that “the purpose of coursework at Jesuit universities is not to make a student think one way or another but to provide the framework for which they can make their own decisions.” Other programs stress the value of critical thinking, but Jesuit universities go above and beyond. As an undergraduate at Saint Louis University I was able to take a class on love and the human condition as well as a class on evil in the modern culture. Taking these classes simultaneously allowed me to think reflectively and critically in an open environment; a skill that I hope to enhance as part of the SLU PA program. Jesuit universities like SLU encourage students to ask deeper questions, a concept derived from the exercises of Ignation Spirituality that will not be found in other PA programs. The combination of humanities and sciences is especially important in a career that requires extensive medical knowledge as well as compassion, yielding the most complete understanding for my patients.

The mission of the SLU PA program explains that the program seeks to produce graduates who are competent in the knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes, and behaviors necessary to become a physician assistant. I agree with President Pestello when he says that the mission is also about “producing a graduate who is certainly going to do well, but also will do good.”

It is evident that SLU has a passion for doing good not just in the community, but also in the classroom. In an undergraduate spanish course I was encouraged to partake in related service. I thus began volunteering with Casa de Salud, a healthcare clinic for the uninsured and underinsured Hispanic community. It was at Casa de Salud where I was able to not only improve my spanish language skills and knowledge of the culture, but also see how a non-science major could make a difference in the medical field. I hope one day to put these Jesuit values to practice as a PA both in my community and abroad. I believe that the SLU PA program will prepare me for this endeavor because as SLU has taught me, “You have to go out into the world before you can change it.”

I hope to attend SLU as a physician assistant student not just for me, but also for the greater glory of God. I want to study and eventually work in the Jesuit way of making everyday labor a form of prayer. I believe that my undergraduate background with SLU, the mission of the Jesuits, and my passion for service make SLU the best place for me to become the most well-rounded, competent, and compassionate PA.

Obviously I love SLU more than I ever thought I could love a school. I wanted to share this to know that my effort and time invested in this essay was not wasted.

It’s OK to Fall Asleep in Church

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Maybe in the beginning it’s important, all the rules of religion. The rules establish a baseline and I needed a baseline for my morals. I thank my grade school as well as my high school education for providing me with such standards. In the same way that I graduated from both of those schools, I also graduated to a new way of thinking that would soon be supported by the Society of Jesus. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, and the professors of Saint Louis University educated with the idea that “the purpose of coursework is not to make a student think one way or another but to provide the framework from which they can make their own decisions.” That’s why classes on feminist theology, Christian metaphysics, and sex and gender are taught at Jesuit universities. With this attitude, Jesuit schools have changed the way young adults see religion.

Jesuit educators are more concerned with critical thinking skills and the ability to ask meaningful questions.  Without fear of fitting into a religious box, Jesuits want young adults to ask deeper questions. And if called, feel that they are invited to Catholicism as opposed to being commanded to fit inside that box. “While traditional religious affiliation is declining, an interest in spirituality among Millennials is not. Millennials are more likely to combine ideas from multiple religious traditions, adopting ideas from Christianity, Buddhism, Shamanism, and other schools of thought, for example.” Jesuit universities seem to have affected this trend because they encourage students “to ask questions of meaning and purpose, without the fear of appearing too religious.” These questions are often asked within the boundaries of not only classrooms, but also retreat programs.

Per the Jesuit education system, retreats were offered at least once a semester and I made it a priority to attend at least one a year. While the retreats are meant to provide a safe place to ask and reflect on questions of meaning and purpose, sometimes I felt like they were merely a chance to turn off my phone for a weekend and escape from the urban university. This being my third year of college and thus my third retreat, I felt like I was answering the same questions that I had spent the better part of my college career reflecting on. I had no mind-blowing revelation on that retreat. Overly exhausted from the lack of sleep prior, I found myself falling asleep a lot during small group discussions, which actually wasn’t a problem because like I said, I had already spent a significant amount of time reflecting on similar questions and I was able to contribute to the group while simultaneously still catching up on sleep. Before the last day I felt like the only thing I had gotten out of the retreat was a solid nap.

Exhaustion is a theme in my life and much like the times I fell asleep on that retreat, I occasionally fall asleep in church on Sundays. While the priest may have taken some offense with me falling asleep during his homily, I was perfectly ok with it. If I spend 40 minutes sleeping and only 20 minutes actually paying attention I could have a moment in those 20 minutes that means more to me than 60 minutes spent forcing myself awake. Sometimes mass is the only hour where life stops or even just slows down for a bit. You know when you’re trying to fall asleep and all of life’s deep questions suddenly seem like they have to be answered right now? Sometimes we need that hour of silence to explore the deeper questions that we’re encouraged to answer. Similar to a retreat, mass is not quite a weekend, but an hour away from the rest of the world.

On my junior year retreat I opened up about my difficulty in finding God in mass, but also about my ease in finding God in nature and opportunities. I had spent 4 months of the previous year studying abroad and maybe 4 Sundays in a church building. I saw more of God in nature and in the opportunities I had than I ever saw in a church building. So instead of finding God behind the stain glass windows of a church, I chose to find Him in my everyday life, which ranged from hiking in the Alps to sleeping in airports.

A character in my favorite book, The Sparrow, who also happens to be a Jesuit, was able to do the most mundane tasks, such as attending mass, with ease. The author writes, “Emilio could be so casual and funny that you forgot sometimes that he was a priest and it came as a surprise when you saw his face during the Mass, or watched him doing something ordinary extraordinarily well, in that Jesuit way of making everyday labor a form of prayer.” That’s the beauty in falling asleep during mass. To do something so mundane as sleeping, yet remain prayerful about it.

People were jealous of what I thought were my struggles. My friends also were amazed at how I could sleep through small group discussions yet still share something profound. To one of them, there was something special about the quiet person of the group, like my presence alone changed the attitude of the discussion, like my sleeping had been a form of prayer. So why isn’t my presence at mass enough? I made an effort to be there in that moment. So why can’t that moment be what I need it to be whether that’s sleep, prayer, or just time spent alone? I want church to be a refresher, not strictly a fulfillment of a religious obligation. I want mass to be what I need it to be in that moment.

My baseline morals from my Catholic grade school and high school education lie in my weekly attendance at mass. However, as a result of my collegiate Jesuit education, it has become more of a spiritual journey, sometimes stopping for a nap along the way.

It’s too easy to see God in His obvious form, sitting on the altar in a church building. But I like the search, the journey, the struggle. In the words of the same character from The Sparrow, “It’s that we hope to reach a point, spiritually, that makes the struggle meaningful.”