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The Aquilian

Learning that being a student at Gonzaga isn’t a single story

Walking the Camino Ignaciano during Spring Break gave me the opportunity to reflect on my Gonzaga experience before I graduated. Photo from Gonzaga Flickr.
By Liam Passey—

Throughout my time at Gonzaga, I have learned about the power of “single stories”. Single stories are the simplified and sometimes false perceptions about individuals or groups that people have the tendency to create. I learned about the term while researching the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who gave a TedTalk defining the dangers of the single story. Listening to her words, I couldn’t help but think of all the times I had fallen victim to believing in these. 

Like many, one of the focal points of my time at Gonzaga has been service. I have had the opportunity to meet people younger people, older people and people my age through service. These people each individually have shared with me stories that have shifted my perspective on the world. At first, I saw many of the people I served as a general population of people who needed help. It wasn’t until I actually began to listen and talk to these people that I learned to see individuals. To see unique people, with unique stories and unique gifts. 

Gonzaga has really shown me through the opportunities to serve, that seeing a person’s full story is essential. Applying this concept to my time with service is easy, but when I think deeper about it, I believe it can apply to the Gonzaga experience, in general. 

A large part of Jesuit tradition encourages the practice of reflection. As a result, students are often told to reflect on their Gonzaga experiences. Listening to others, I always noticed that there seems to be a go-to Gonzaga story. A story that begins with overwhelming angst that is quickly smothered by a strong community. For years, this is a story it seemed like everyone told. A story many could relate to. But not me. To me, it was a story that seemed almost backward.

I entered Gonzaga as a freshman in 2019 with high hopes. I was told many great stories about the school. It was going to be the place where I would meet my best friends. It was going to give me the experience of a lifetime. To say that my expectations were high was an understatement, and, unfortunately, they were not met. 

Once the first school year started, things did not go as I hoped. Anxiousness developed as I never quite found my place the way I thought I would. I waited and waited for the moment when everything would click and come together, but it simply never happened. Angry, I didn’t get why the story didn’t align for me.

I was caught up in the idea of a single story. I fully believed that there was only one way to be a part of Gonzaga. I believed that since my story wasn’t the cliche one I was familiar with, I would never get the true Gonzaga experience. What I didn’t understand is that my story didn’t have to be a cliche experience. It was supposed to be mine. 

You can’t wait for your story to just align perfectly with a preconceived idea; you actually have to write it. So once I realized this, I did. Instead of standing still waiting for a moment to make me feel more like a part of the community, I took the initiative to be involved. I joined clubs and teams. I took leadership roles on campus. I even got the chance to travel the world—all of which helped me define my own story to be proud of.

If I had to give advice as a graduating senior to any student, incoming or present, it would be two things: listen to the whole stories of others, but write your own. Listen to every person you talk to. Listen to the stories of your peers who are experiencing life alongside you. Listen to the stories of your teachers who have experienced a little more. Listen to the stories of the people you serve who can offer more insight than you can imagine. Take all that and have the courage to define how your life will go with the understanding that it will be different, and that is okay.

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