What do you want to be when you grow up? Where do you see yourself in ten years? Have you decided where you’re going next year? We have been asked these questions since kindergarten, but the rate at which they are asked seems to increase exponentially with each passing year. Our ability to answer these questions, on the other hand, does not follow a similar pattern. It often seems that the closer we get to our future, the less sure we are of it. We realize our limitations. We find we are afraid of failure. We are often even unsure of what it is we actually want.
I remember sitting right where you are right now four years ago. It some ways it seems like a lifetime away and in other ways I’m still surprised to find myself already here, arriving at another graduation, another state of transition. Next year I will be attending Georgetown University School of Medicine and though I am filled with joy for what is to come, I cannot help but feel my heart clinging to my last moments here at LMU.
In college, you often don’t have class every day of the week and you don’t have classes all day long, but somehow days are always filled to the brim, whether it be with meetings, work, sports, research, studying, meeting up with friends, participating in clubs or working with service organizations. The list goes on and on. Everyone’s experience is different, but here’s an example of an average Monday for me this semester. I pull myself out of bed at a very untimely hour to scamper down to the beach and squeeze in some surfing before class. Inevitably I’m running a little late and whip up some breakfast and coffee before running to my 9 am biology class where the teacher not only knows us by name, but by the nicknames he’s assigned to each of us. I then have an hour break before my yoga and biochemistry classes. This is followed by four hours of walking around the Ballona Wetlands just outside campus watching birds and chasing lizards for my field lab research. I then have a break to grab more food before heading over to one of my professor’s houses where he teaches judo inside his garage for free to LMU students and the neighborhood kids. I then come back to campus to catch up with my roommates and get some studying in before bed. Oh, I also live on the bluff and watch the sun set over the ocean from my bed pretty much every night. To me, it doesn’t get much better than this.
When I was in your shoes I had I had a vague idea of what I wanted my college experience to be like, but wasn’t exactly sure how to find it. I knew I was interested in science. I was leaning towards a career in medicine, but wasn’t completely convinced yet. I was looking for a school that would give me the support I needed to excel academically, but also keep me well rounded and allow me to explore fields outside of my major. Mostly, I was looking for a community, a place to call home.
As I have spoken with others who are graduating I have realized many of us came to LMU with similar dreams. We came to this university with dreams of being the top of our class, of being the one to make it onto a NCAA, club or intermural sports team, to be accepted into a service organization, fraternity or sorority. We wanted to be the best scientists, theologians, artists and businessmen this university had ever seen. Some of us hoped to one day find a cure for childhood cancer, win an Oscar, work on Wall Street or become the next CEO in the Silicon Valley and hoped LMU would give us the tools to do so.
Maybe many of you can relate. We grow up idolizing super heroes and valiant characters in books. They know their mission in life, battle the bad guys and save the princess. We want to be like Gandhi or King Arthur, Bilbo Baggins or Pope Francis. As we grow, we realize our limitations, we run into road blocks, we fail. It seems like what we have fantasized about is simply that, fantasy.
I have learned that this does not mean an end to our dreams, but rather a shift in our thinking of them. Looking back, I’ve realized my education here at Loyola Marymount has helped to change my fantasizing to imagining. What do I mean by that? Tuesday nights a handful of us gather for a club meeting to discuss Catholic topics or a short prayer service. On one of these nights, I remember the much loved Bishop Bennett distinguishing between fantasy and imagination. He explained that when we fantasize we dream of being the best in the world, but when we imagine we dream of being the best for the world.
This imagining is at the heart of Ignatian spirituality and I can attest to the fact that it is a gift we have received as students here at LMU. As students, we found ourselves becoming contemplatives in action, discussing the social, economic and political ideas around homelessness and then confronting what that means on a personal level as we speak to a homeless man on skid row. We found ourselves helplessly giggling with lifelong friends, coming to more fully understand loyalty and love. We have been shown by example the meaning of “Magis,” or “the more,” as we sat scribbling physics problems in the office of a professor whose door is always open and who makes you feel like there’s no place he’d rather be than working with you after class. We have found ourselves discussing the relationship between quantum physics and Hindu philosophy in a class that began as a way to fulfill a credit and ended as a new lens through which we saw the world. We have found God in the kind words of our peers, in the pews of Sacred Heart Chapel, and in a quiet space alone on the bluff.
We no longer simply imagine being the best of the best. Loyola Marymount University has laid a foundation so that in developing our whole selves, in mind, in body, and in spirit, we will best serve the world in all her chaotic and beautiful intricacies. My hope is that wherever you end up next year, you may also begin to imagine how you might create your best selves in order to best serve the world, your communities, and each individual with whom you interact.