You may have noticed a bit of a slowdown at the blog lately (except for the discussions of the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II). It happens around this time every year. Most of us are teachers and get overwhelmed by the end of the semester work: finishing up classes, grading papers, preparing for final exams, calculating grades, and getting students ready for graduation.
Of course, it is a busy time for the students as well. They love getting wasted. They hookup all the time. They don’t bother to work hard. It is like one big Animal House. Just as members of Delta Tau Chi House accumulate GPA’s of 1.2, 0.2, 1.6, and 0.0, students party throughout college and, after graduation, go off to great success. I imagine that student slumping in the back of the classroom will, like Bluto, become a senator. For those of us doing theology, we also know that this general lack of engagement, this live for the moment mentality, extends to religion. They do not care much about church or faith.
These are college students, right?
So little of this stereotype is true. I cannot say how many of my “Blutos” turned out to be excellent students, working hard and succeeding in their courses. During the last week of almost every semester, I watch bleary-eyed and caffeinated students grind out research projects in multiple classes, both in their majors and in their core classes. While the amount of time spent studying has decreased over the last decade, it is not driven by laziness. More students have to work to get through college, and many also have to spend time taking care of parents and siblings. This is not to count the number of extra-curricular activities that have become a fact of college life: student government, clubs, service projects, and athletics. This is all on top of trying to find summer internships or work or, if they are graduating, waiting to hear back from graduate schools and jobs.
If we step back and think about it, we should not be surprised that most college students are diligent and tenacious workers. From their childhood they have had a highly organized life, maybe too organized, and have known that they must work hard to get into the right college, a process that for many started in preschool.
This hard work has been compounded by the reality that, even with this work ethic, they still might not succeed. They have debt coming out of college. They are struggling to find jobs and are often underemployed. It is no wonder that approximately 30% of college students experience depression.
These are not your Bluto’s.
Just as these students are not lazy, they are not faithless. While not all are explicitly religious or institutionally committed, they take seriously and are thoughtful about how they should be and act in the world. They don’t just want to get by. They want to do something meaningful with their lives. It is why, I think, the number of majors in philosophy and theology has been increasing for over a decade at Catholic colleges.
I also saw my students faith commitments come out in the theses of the 10 page research papers I was grading last week. As teachers, we so often bemoan grading, but, as I read the thoughtfulness and religious perspectives in these papers, it was like a practice in lectio divina. These students argued:
- Consumerism hinders our ability to love others.
- The self-sacrificing love of Jesus can be practiced by each of us in our daily lives.
- The way to resist temptation is through loving something else more.
- Loving others must be done in hope for we cannot always know the outcome.
- Caring for the environment is part of reverencing God’s order for creation.
- Giving alms separates us from things and connects us to people.
- God’s authority and justice are to bring about peace among humanity. They are not to dictate life from above like a tyrant.
- Our individuality is our unique way to serve others.
- Failing to love God and neighbor results in failing to love one’s self.
- Busyness in life limits the possibility of faith.
- Mercy connects us to God and our own humanity.
Their thoughts in these papers reminded me once again of the way stereotypes can infest our minds and warp our understanding of others. More importantly, though, it gave me so much hope for the future of our society and the Church. These students are not self-indulgent egoists partying their way through college. They are working hard, simultaneously balancing school, family, work and service to their fellow students. Yet, in the midst of this pressure and anxiety, they are thinking seriously about faith, hope, and love. Let’s hope all of these endure, especially the greatest of these.