In my family, the moment we finish the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, we turn on Christmas music. For the next month, we sing “Deck the Halls,” “Joy to the World” and other classics with a tireless fervor.
Unfortunately, most of these traditions carry on at home without me. After two and a half years at Georgetown, I have found that one of the things I miss most is spending the holiday season with my family.
Whether it be building a snowman with my sisters or hunting for the perfect Christmas tree, I miss the spirit of joy that imbues our holiday traditions. Working on countless essays and preparing for final exams throughout the holiday season makes it all the more painful.
What I really miss most is the sense of peace that comes with spending a weekend decorating a tree, building a snowman or just sitting around a fire with a mug of hot chocolate.
Too often this sense of peace is entirely absent on the Hilltop, as everybody spins into high gear with finals season fast approaching.
Professors use their last weeks of class to collect papers and give out late midterms. As the winter cold sets in, students move more briskly across campus with thick coats, scarf-covered faces and stooped shoulders. Every seat in Lauinger Library is filled by some poor soul whose face is crammed in a book. A fog of stress obscures the merriment we once had as kids.
For many of us, this stressful period also obscures our purpose in being here. We tend to work manically without stopping to think why. Amid the chaos on campus, it becomes all the more important to remember why we are here doing the work we do.
We tend to forget our true purpose here. We are not working for our professors, but for higher causes. Though more difficult, our journey through Georgetown ought to be a fundamentally and profoundly joyful mission.
Recalling our community values can help us in this mission. Our Jesuit tradition calls us to engage in “contemplation in action.” Being contemplative in the Jesuit tradition, however, entails more than simply being present.
We are also called to reflect on our past actions and to pray over our future actions. Such reflection allows us to more deeply understand our experiences and come to better comprehend ourselves and others.
Furthermore, prayer helps us to rededicate our works to a higher cause and allows us to center ourselves and find peace in the chaos. By taking a moment to step back and recall the presence of God in our lives, we can remember what we ought to hold as important.
We should engage in active contemplation not for the sake of doing, as we should not study simply for the sake of a grade. Rather, we should commit all of our actions to bettering ourselves. At the end of the day, there are more important things than the final essay or grade in a class. Our own growth as people will always matter more than our GPAs.
Our university is built around our pursuit of the truth. Founded on a rich tradition centered on faith, Georgetown is called to engage in this pursuit unlike any other school.
We are called to work not with the same tireless monotony of our peers in Chicago, Boston or New Haven, but with a richer spirit, one that is energized by our purpose: to build our characters and cultivate our souls.
This work is not easy. It is almost certainly more difficult than acing finals. But the rewards persist after school, even after our first and second jobs. In fact, we as Catholics believe the reward to be eternal.
Fr. Edmund Walsh, S.J., the founder of our School of Foreign Service, once said, “Character … is the keystone of the arch which Georgetown University has ever aspired to erect in the souls of her sons.” It “must be hewn from living rock, from the secret, inaccessible recesses where dwell your spiritual ideals and your intellectual aspirations,” he wrote.
So let us not be daunted by the chaos of the end of the year. We will fare better if we recall the joy and happiness that is supposed to be found in this holiday season. Amid all our work, we ought to use prayer and reflection to create moments of peace for ourselves and to remember that we are working toward something infinitely better than good grades.
Hunter Estes is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. This is the final installment of The Round Table.