In November of my sophomore year, I returned home for a weekend to sponsor my brother’s confirmation to the Roman Catholic Church. As we sat in the church gymnasium awaiting his pivotal spiritual moment, my 13-year old brother turned to me and said, “Why are either of us here? We’re never going to go to church anyway…” Despite my enrollment at a Catholic school, I could not provide an answer. Nonetheless, I stood behind him as he received confirmation. He hasn’t been to church since, but my journey has been more complicated.
My brother’s question spoke for both of us until the events of my last semester at Georgetown. For my justice and peace studies thesis, I aimed to visit a Native American reservation. While there, I wanted to do research that incorporated the voices of Native American people, who are traditionally left out of research conducted within institutions that do not have Native American representation.
Yet I found scheduling visits to Native American schools difficult. The person with whom I had been working at Red Cloud High School, a Jesuit school on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, had not responded in weeks. Reservation schools are typically under-resourced, as evidenced by a report by the National Education Association, so I felt nervous following up continuously. My thesis adviser and I decided on a new path for my research that did not take me to a reservation.
The same evening of that decision, Fr. Greg Schenden, S.J., told my “Vocation and Purpose” class a story in which St. Ignatius was stubborn in pursuit of his purpose. After the story, I told Fr. Schenden I wanted to adopt a more Ignatian attitude, instead of continuing my concerns about seeming invasive. Fr. Schenden encouraged me to continue with my project, emphasizing the importance of conducting research through a visit, as opposed to relying on the writings of non-Native American people.
That evening, my friend David gave me similar encouragement. He told me that these are the projects for which you persist and told me to call Red Cloud every day. So I called Thursday, with no response. I called Friday, with no response. I called Monday and finally got through. My pure excitement was halted by the counselor’s words on the other end of the phone: He was coordinating a response plan after a student suicide and would have to call me back tomorrow. The grave circumstances of his response underscored the importance of ensuring my research served the needs of the community and did not allow the bias of my fortunate reality to misrepresent theirs. Three weeks later, I travelled to South Dakota and interviewed several staff members and conducted a focus group of students, yielding a thesis that presents recommendations to make postsecondary institutions more accessible for Native Americans.
Now as I prepare to graduate from Georgetown, I look forward to working at Red Cloud next year as a middle school teacher. I have no idea where my next opportunity will be after, but I know my Red Cloud community will guide me toward the future, just as my Georgetown community did.
I had originally written this reflection about discovering my own strength at Georgetown. Yet I sat at the Senior Shabbat last night and watched my friend David give a D’var Torah, or “word of Torah,” about the process of becoming ready to graduate. Participating in Shabbat as someone who is not Jewish, I shared in their gratitude for each other for building the community as welcoming as it proves to be. I similarly felt grateful for the people who welcomed me to campus, such as those in the Georgetown Scholarship Program who allow students to build community in a space that is our own.
I will never be sure if the path carrying me beyond Georgetown came to me through a guiding spiritual hand or pure coincidence. While I used to see that path as individualized, I now see that my path has been influenced by the many people who have encouraged me to trust not only myself but also the guidance of those around me.
I entered Georgetown skeptical about joining a Catholic community. Yet, by allowing myself to lean on the support of spiritual communities and others on campus, I found the comfort of knowing that the journey we take does not have to be alone. They opened my mind to the possibility that we have a greater purpose in life that can only be achieved if we accept the help of those who have been placed near us to guide us.
Emily Kaye is a senior in the College.