An open letter to this year’s graduating seniors

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Dr. John Norris, ‘84, Contributing Writer

As seniors approaching the end of your academic careers at the University of Dallas, many of you may find yourselves experiencing a myriad of complex and even contradictory intellectual and emotional reactions to this time of great change. Joy, excitement, relief, trepidation, insecurity, disappointment, sadness, anxiety—all of these emotions and many more may, like clouds, streak rapidly over the expanse of your mental firmament. You are now passing through the liminal events—comps, senior studios, theses—which represent the completion of your education and demonstrate that you have indeed achieved the intellectual formation you sought when you entered the University of Dallas a number of years ago. You are already checking off a long list of “lasts”: last Groundhog, last Spring Formal, last TGIT, last final exam.

One difficult aspect of this process of leave-taking, which I have talked about with a number of students this spring, is a growing awareness of the faults and weaknesses of the university that many of you have come to love and respect deeply. The honeymoon of the Rome semester has long passed, and the first heady draughts of upper-level courses in your major have led to some bitter dregs: disgruntlement over comprehensive boondoggles, concerns about whether your UD education will actually help you find a job, frustration over the senior gift.

This disappointment should be expected and indeed welcomed. The University of Dallas has trained you to be intellectually and spiritually critical. Applying that critical eye to your own alma mater is a necessary step in your formation. And such a critical eye should also be focused on yourself as well, a serious reflection upon your own successes and failures in your academic career. This process of critique is not an end in itself, but a means to a life-long process of improvement, always seeking what in Ignatian pedagogy is called the “magis,” the “more.”

An unfortunate inclination in such newly awakened censure is the rejection of what is good in something when the object or the person once idealized turns out to be less than perfect. C.S. Lewis presented this inclination in The Screwtape Letters, when the newly converted Patient is encouraged by his devilish tempter to be disappointed that the parishioners sitting next to him in church are not exact images of first-century apostles, but never to look at himself and be aware of his own faults.

Another aspect of this process is what many call “the scorched-earth syndrome.” When you are leaving a relationship, job or place of residence, there is a necessary and natural tendency to see the worst in the past in order to make leaving that past more bearable. You may have experienced something similar in leaving behind your high school, your hometown or your family.

The goal to shoot for in critical evaluation of the university should be first to praise what is good, to see what is less good in light of compassion for human weakness and understanding of where we often fall short ourselves, to have patience to bear those weaknesses,  and to hope to improve what you are able to improve, relying on the Holy Spirit to be the primary force for change and improvement.

As your final days wind down, may you savor the imaginative, far-reaching and droll conversations that have become part of your daily life, and may you revel in the deep friendships you have formed here that will last you a lifetime. May the labors we have shared together side by side provide you with a lifelong harvest of intellectual and spiritual fruit, and may your memories of your time at UD be both honest and cherished.

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