Three months before my 22nd birthday, I did something that I always aspired to do: I earned a degree from my dream school, the University of Notre Dame. I was full of energy, full of life, and full of myself. It is an accomplishment that I will cherish until my very last breath. In those four years, I spent a great deal of time focusing on myself as I worked to become a polished young professional ready to enter the stratosphere of millennial society.
Notre Dame challenged me every day with rigorous classes, a wealth of knowledge from many sources, and numerous peers and mentors to guide and shape me. I thought that I could do anything. I began to dream big: I could be the next Wolf of Wall Street, Fortune 500 CEO, or award-winning author. Anything was possible.
So what happened when I joined ACE Teaching Fellows and accepted a job offer at St. John Paul II High School in Corpus Christi, Texas? Naturally, I expected to be the best teacher the school had ever seen. I believed I was so smart and educated that I couldn’t possibly fail.
In reality, I wasn’t the best teacher in school history, but I learned an important lesson. My students and the people of Corpus taught me to find joy and flourish no matter where I found myself. They made me realize that many of the things I had prized as “real”–the business cards, bank statements, suits, promotions, and titles–were just things that held no real passion or joy in themselves. I had always been under the belief that I needed to go out and chase after opportunities wherever they arose, no matter how far from my family I was.
But in Corpus, things are different. I have never experienced a place where families are so close and involved with one another and the community on a daily basis. Many of those families have been in the area for generations. I realized that choosing to stay in one’s home is something special and valuable. I look back at the devotion people in Corpus have for one another, and it is certainly something to be prized.
I also discovered that—just the like families of the area—I could devote and commit myself to my students and to my fellow community members. Through all of this, I came to understand how fitting it is that I started out at Our Lady’s University. Mary represents personal growth and faith. She was asked a most personal question: to give of herself for God. As an individual, Mary chose to pursue a relationship with God; she chose to commit herself to an endeavor that stretched far beyond her and created community with others. After college, I needed to learn how to look beyond myself, and so God led me to Corpus Christi, “the Body of Christ,” where I found a home and strength not in my own competence and ability, but in the love and community that I shared with those around me.