Degrees of Separation
College Seniors Take a Spiritual Look at Graduation
Coming to the University of California at Santa Barbara was a very significant decision in my life. As I prepare to leave, I draw parallels between the new start that college brought me four years ago and the new start I will encounter as I graduate from UCSB in the coming month. Amongst all of the changes that I encounter and contrast one thing remains the same: God was, is, and will always be my companion.
Although this is true for all people, whether
we choose to see our relationship with God in this way or not, I feel it is especially significant to me because of the separations I have experienced from people who are close to me. When I was thirteen years old my mother, sister, and brother—the people who were most dear to me—went to live in the Philippines while I stayed in the U.S. to live with my dad and continue with my education. Several years later I experienced the tragedy of the passing away of my father. In leaving for a college two hours away from where I had grown up, I had little prospect of seeing my dearest friends as often as I once had.
Through these times, despite the depths into which I felt I had descended, my spirituality–my relationship with God—never let me fall.
As my college graduation approaches and I prepare to move from California to Belgium to pursue my graduate studies, the familiar anxiety arises: I will be alone, I will be amongst strangers, I will have to start from scratch. And then I admit to myself that I have forgotten the One who is closest to me, the One who has always been by my side, the One who has never let me alone, and the One who soothes all of my fears.
I remember, I remind myself that God is my companion and that he goes wherever I go…that he is wherever I am…and because of that I am never alone.
I walk away from the experience of college with many new and dear friends, a loving Catholic community, maturity and growth, and a deeper understanding of my relationship with God. Recognizing that God is and will always be with me is one of the most profound gifts I could have ever learned at college. It has made me a stronger person. It has allowed me the courage to do the things I’ve always dreamt about doing. As I complete my final year of college I go forward confronting the challenges before me with all of the joy and confidence one could possibly have with God as her companion.
On the Job for the Almighty
In June 2003, I graduate from the University of California at Santa Barbara. This marks the culmination of my entire schooling, and practically my entire life. Over the years, I have encountered math, science, history, and English. I have figured out how to study for a test and how to wind down afterward. I have learned not to run with scissors and quantum physics. Graduation truly is the apex of a journey that began with my first word.
However, graduation is only another step in an ongoing life journey. I am excited to go out into the world, meet people, build relationships, answer the call when the world needs my skills.
But the most important call is not to discover cold-fusion or to make a reliable fuel cell car. People are more important. It is the relationships I make and the positive impact I have on people’s lives that I want to be remembered for. I would like to be that friend there for someone in a difficult time, the stranger who takes an interest in the life of a person in need.
Answering this call also imparts a great opportunity to share my faith through example. If I can have a positive impact on someone’s life, I am representing Catholicism. If I bring kindness to many, I am bringing Christ to the world.
In June, when I walk across the stage, it will mark the completion of my first step in my life as an engineer, but only a shift in the way I do God’s work on earth. From now on, I am not only an educated member of our society, but a living, working member of God’s church.
God’s Suprises Everywhere
I have a love-hate relationship with the idea of graduating early—in three years instead of four. At times I feel proud, while at other times I unquestionably feel a nervous anxiety. I can not help but ask myself why is it that, when I am finally beginning to come into my own, to be fully accepting of myself, I am forced to face a mysterious future? I suppose as graduating seniors, we are all faced with the same daunting and challenging thought, “Where do I go from here?”.
This question takes on a whole new meaning when we take it out of the realm of continued education and career options and ask it in relation to faith and spirituality. Sometimes contemplating your continued spiritual growth is an even more arduous question than deciding on a career path or graduate school. What will I do when I separate myself from this small Catholic utopia near the ocean and face a new locale?
Three years ago I was welcomed into a community who taught me innumerable and priceless lessons of life, love, and faith. I met friends who supported me, challenged me, and most importantly inspired me. They taught me that, even when doubt and anxiety shadow our lives, God’s face is recognizable in the person next to us. Yet it is easy to see God in the face of others when we are surrounded by those of our common faith. It is a worthy challenge, however, to seek the face of God in all who greet us. This is a challenge I will carry with me after graduation.
I feel it is important to remind myself that the love of others does not go away with location change or lapse of time, but makes impressions on our souls that will last forever. A community, a faith sharing experience, a friend. These are things God has brought into our lives to change us in irreversible ways.
A friend once told me that, no one knows what the future holds but God’s surprises are constant reminders of his love for us.
While I’ve never thought of myself as a person to give advice, I would encourage all those facing a similar transition (even as I am encouraged) to remember how those around you have created lasting impressions. Whether or not these people were found in a community of faith, God is at work through them reaching out to surprise us daily.
Finally, keep in mind that our thoughts of others are subtle prayers for their well-being, and that there will always be someone thinking of you.