And the Snow Falls

Snowfall

Every beginning has its end. On February 25, I put up my first post. Now 10 months later, this is the last. This is my last post I will have this semester and most likely the last post of mine here on WordPress. We, as in Cougar Diaries, are moving on to a new platform, Facebook. There, we hope to connect to even more people and share the small moments of life here at Saint Xavier. It was fun doing this blog. It has given me time to think with workloads that sometimes prevent me from thinking of myself and of what is the world around me beyond the classroom. But as an end to this blog, as it may be, it is also a beginning.

 

It is the first snow, a fitting beginning for an end. The snow is white, fluffy and has a gentle coldness to it. There is no dirty or uncomfortable slurry of freezing rain. There is just a silent falling that sounds in the air. No cars are out heading to 103rd Street. No people are out to disturb the blanket of white snow. Only the hum of exhaust from steam above on the roofs of buildings and the ambient sound of the wind tells me I am not deaf. It is more than just frozen water constructed in beautiful and unique shapes, but the end of a time. The campus is empty, not a soul out as I walk slowly through the cascade of gentle powdered sugar. It is fitting that on this day that the first snow fall is the last day I am to be here on this site.

 

There is sadness and anxiousness within me. I am somber to the fact that I no longer will be on this site. And with the load of finals on my back, I find it hard to finish this. But I also find a comfort in the quiet snowfall. The end of the semester seems so far away yet in only a few days I will be leaving this school for home once more. It’s quiet as I sit by the window watching countless snowflakes fall to never be seen again. And in the haze of the snow, I smile, knowing only at this moment in time will it be so. The day is drawing to a close and I have much to do. But let me take one last look outside and remember the day I first wrote to you here. It’s not the end of Cougar Diaries. We will continue on here. It’s only another beginning for stories of this school and its people. The day draws to a close and the snow falls.

 

Around the Table

Every year, Saint Xavier closes down for the Thanksgiving holiday. The dorms empty and the students go home. This leaves a quiet peace here on campus as the sounds of footsteps and cars no longer grace the air with its presence. With no one in the dorms, I’m guessing the maintenance staff is very thankful for a reprieve from the usual rambunctiousness of the student body. It’s safe to say that the student body is also very thankful. For many, it is a well-needed rest before finals week. Others find it a chance to be with family and enjoy some long missed home cooking. And it is this time that we as Americans take a moment to think of the things that we are grateful for and lucky to have, whether that be the families we grew up with or made, the country we live in or the possessions we have. However, in these times of great political polarization and hate on both sides of the aisle, there is a threat to that time of unity and of humble thanks.

 

Respect, an integral part of life here in Saint Xavier. It is one of our core values and something that is instilled into us as a necessary part of the discourse of learning and of living with one another. But it does not just mean respect with opinions in the class. When it comes to family, we must also be respectful of our family’s opinions. What’s the point of coming together as a family to have Thanksgiving if we are not willing to give each other mutual respect for our sometimes different perspectives in life. Respect goes both ways. But it should not be assumed or expected if one does not contribute to it as well. Often times, respect is expected automatically which is both right and wrong. You should have the courteousness and respect and not present yourself as a rude individual, but at the same time, the person receiving the respect should also make good and present themselves and conduct themselves as being worthy of said respect. But respect does not just mean to other people. It also is a way of living and appreciating the things we have. That’s why they call it Thanksgiving.

 

Thanksgiving is not just Turkey Day. And while the origins of Thanksgiving may not suit the pallid of some, the meaning behind it should. Too often do we forget the things that we have and lose our perspective in the world. We toss things we don’t use anymore in the trash and underappreciate both the things and the people in our lives. A healthy respect for the lucky things in our lives opens our eyes to not just what we have but also what others do not have. Volunteering at homeless shelters has opened my eyes to things I had already known. But they have kept my eyes fixed on these injustices and things we take for granted. There are so many people in the world, so many here in this country that do not have the things we have or the people in our lives. That is why when you’re around the table with your family, not just on Thanksgiving but on every occasion, take pause to be grateful for what you have and maybe give a little as well.

When It’s Cold Out

As if a hurricane was barring down on the quiet quad and the empty sidewalks, a raging torrent of wind blows through the empty campus. This week, we have finally experienced the beginnings of winter. While it has yet to snow here at Saint Xavier, the signs are obvious. People bundled up from head to toe wobble to class. Leaves are nearing the end of their time as they shrivel and fall. The once lush green grass has now begun to turn hay color, and the trees loom overhead as spooky skeletons of wood.

 

With temperatures in the 20s and 30s, there’s not much in the way of outdoorsy fun for your average college student. Ask around, and they’ll more often than not remark something along the lines of, “Go outside? You’re crazy?” Around this time of year, the school is a far cry from its usual bustling self. Picnics and leisurely walks along the picturesque campus are replaced with a quiet serenity with the howl of the wind. The shortening of the day has reduced. Gathering a large crowd for an outing can be a chore in itself, let alone in the height of a freezing November. And it is even harder when it involves freezing college students. If you’re planning an event at night, forget about it. A good o’ scoff will be the best you’d get if your event was unfortunately scheduled during a cold, windy late fall night. Nevertheless, the murmured shouting and cheering of a building in excitable energy staved off the cold night when Saint Xavier’s F.I.E.R.C.E. Anime Club was able to pull it with its semi-annual gaming tournament Friday night.

 

Each semester, the club, collaborating with the gaming clubs of Saint Xavier, hosts a night of nothing but video games. Games, like Mario Cart, Nintendo Smash, Mortal Kombat, and others, take center stage as dozens of people, students, from Saint Xavier and from other schools as well as non-students come for a common interest. In the Andrew Conference Center, dozens of people from as far as DePaul and UIC came to join their friends and fellow gamers for a night away from the stresses of schoolwork and enjoy a little peace in the cold night. There is an almost strange peace during the tournament.

 

In a few weeks, finals will take place and many of us students will no longer be playing video games but scrambling to finish any remaining projects and study for our finals tests. So for us, to take some time to just chill and play with our friends without a care in the world is priceless.

 

Community is a very important part of life here at Saint Xavier, especially for the cliques that are not traditionally considered “cool.” Call us what you will — nerds, geeks, losers – we live as we want, loving our hobbies and interests without a care of what others may say. And it is this mentality of self-worth and acceptance that allows for such gatherings to succeed. There is a form of comradery among us gamers to be able to come together and make jokes and references to things that only we know while the “normies” gawk in confusion. And while the rest of the residents are huddled in their dorms away from the cold, we were having a blast competing with each other in friendly and sometimes heated rivals but always in good fun. And when the event was over, fun was had, friendships were formed, and a rejuvenation left in its wake. Only now an anticipation of next semester’s game tournament lies in my heart. For when it’s cold out, there’s always a place to stay warm. But it’s always better with company.

More than a Moment of Silence

Veterans hold a special and honored place in our society – and in most other societies. In our wars, regardless of their moral rightfulness or justification, these men and women have laid down their lives for the hallowed promise that the sacred homeland knows not the miasma of war and death. It is a tradition here at Saint Xavier to honor our veteran students with not just a moment of silence but by sitting down and listening to their stories. It is always a tragic day when the last veteran of a war passes away for with them goes any lasting insight into our past, for a people that forgets their history are lost and wayward. These men and women are remembered by the student body and the school itself as exemplars of those that strive for and commit one’s life to the endeavour of compassion and service. The aforementioned virtues are two of our core values of which this University holds its students responsible for. This vigor, the desire to serve with compassion is what defines and dictates what and how we conduct ourselves.

I come from a family with a long martial history with veterans on both sides of my family. There is a long irony in my family in relation to my own homeland, the United States. There is a strange back-and-forth service with and against the United States in my family. My paternal great-grandfather served in the Japanese navy as a fleet captain during the World War I on the side of the Entente, including the U.S. My paternal grandfather served in the Japanese army from 1937-1945 rising to the rank of major before his surrender at the conclusion of the Battle of Okinawa. On my mother’s side, my maternal grandfather fought against the French in Vietnam. Later during the Vietnam War, my father would serve as an Vietnamese interpreter and military police officer allied with the United States being the first of our family to step foot in the United States. And currently, many of my cousins and in-laws have served in the military of Vietnam. In my family, there is a sacred obligation passed down our family line to defend one’s homeland. Perhaps one day I will have to fulfill that most sacred of obligations. But I hope that such a fate doesn’t befall this country to bring about that obligation’s fulfillment. And perhaps it is this history of my family that has me hold a reverence for Veterans Day.

Like I said, the true tragedy of time is the losing of individual history. My father told me enough stories to fill 10 books which I shall pass on. My grandfather had a journal giving insight into the other side of the World War II, rarely if ever explored. He would constantly reiterate to his men as they fought for their country on the battlefields of the Pacific against the Americans certain values he held. In his last speech to his men before their surrender, he said, “We are human as much as they. We are a part of something grander than ourselves. We are loyal soldiers. But we are not unthinking fodder. We are men. They trust us to make the right decisions. And this is my decision.”

These values he held of compassion for his men that he would brand himself a coward in the eyes of his society to save the lives of his men are what every veteran that has served their country with honor holds, not just in the U.S. but every nation, love for one’s countryman. It is something that we’d be fools to forsake. It should not be the case that so many of our fellow citizens cast aside that value in the face of this uncertainty. In the fires of recent events in our country’s history, people have forgotten about what really matters – compassion and understanding. In these days in which division and rhetoric are used to hurt and lessen people, we need to come together and put our words into actions. If one dislikes the rhetoric of someone, instead of trying to snuff out their opinions and their right to speak, one should fulfill their own principles. In honor of those that served, we should not attempt to stifle the rights and liberties that so many before have given their lives in the defense of. So beyond a simple moment of silence, take the time to thank a veteran for their service. It doesn’t take much to give a little courtesy to those that chose to fight for us. It is more than just a moment of silence.

Those Sky Flowers

There was an energy in the air on Wednesday night. The usual chatter of rowdy college students outside was absent. They were all inside. The chips and salsa were out and the soda was bubbling away in our red party cups as our eyes were glued to the television screen. Everyone had a nice comfy seat which they refused to sit in. We were all standing. Everyone held their breath in that 10th inning as another Cleveland batter took to the plate. So close but so easily taken away those last few minutes could have been. And when the final score came, everything became a shout fest.

 

The quiet stillness of hallways was shattered, as an overly enthusiastic viewer ran down the hall barefoot shouting at the top of his lungs, “They did it!” The sound of fireworks bellowed in the distance on cue lighting the night in an aura of brilliant lights. Excited and exhilarated screams and cheers echo in the empty streets around Saint Xavier on Wednesday as the Cubs finally won! And when I went to the window and heard the collective cry of the campus residents in united celebration, it made me reaffirm my reason for living on campus. It was a good day!

 

After the school day is done and the commuters return home, there is a silence in the air that tells me that the day is over, and yet I must linger. As the sun fades behind the clouds and the day dims as cars depart and less and fewer people are seen walking the sidewalks and paths of the campus, there is a sadness that I feel, like watching a dear friend leave on the train while you remain. Perhaps this is just my family’s famous sentimentality that got my grandfather through the losing side of a World War or my father through years of hard labor to afford me this moment to stand idle in the silent of an American campus. But either way, there is something I find special about living as a resident here at Saint Xavier.

 

Campus life can be a mixed bag at times, especially as a person that works with the maintenance and housekeeping staff here. It can be difficult with certain folks who, for whatever reason, were not taught by their parents to clean after themselves. But besides the occasional workplace gripes as in any place, the students are respectful and generally try to keep their home away from home clean, or at least tolerable for us workers to step in time. On occasion, depending on your personality, you might get into arguments with your fellow residents and dormmates as is to be expected. But for the most part, there is a sense of community here and it is emphasized regularly. It’s an almost comradery among those of us that have no place to go during those holidays when the dorms are closed. And as I look out the window watching the grand explosions of brilliant lights from my door room with the cheers of my fellow residents in the distance, I can’t help but know at least here, there is a gentle peace.

Striving for Excellence

The hall resounds my footsteps as I amble down an empty hall. Not a sound besides myself occupies the hall on a dreary Tuesday morning. The occasional murmuring of one of the janitorial staff draws my attention from my fixed view of the empty diner. But overall, the most deafening noise was the silence in what should be the busy and bustling heart of Saint Xavier. But then I remembered and slapped my forehead disparagingly. On Tuesday of this week, day classes were cancelled for Faculty Development Day. It was no surprise that I was disappointed in waking up early, but then the feeling of being overjoyed replaced my disappointment. How lucky to have some free time to get homework done, socialize and just laze around. And I can assure you that I did just that. It sounds like fun and games, and it was, but beyond the face of the situation was more than just a day to laze around. Well, maybe it was like that for us students, but for the professors and educators that form the bedrock of this institution of higher learning, it was no laughing matter. That Tuesday was more than just a day for the professors to sit around in a conference room listening to someone recite a PowerPoint. It was a time for professors and another faculty at our school to continue on their path toward excellence. And make no mistake, that is the goal.

 

In the School of Education, one of the primary aptitudes that are cultivated and improved on is the pursuit of excellence. Teaching is much different than educating a person. I can teach little Jimmy not to lie to his friends or how to dig a hole for a tree sapling. He’ll do it but he won’t understand why. And that’s the biggest thing that should be asked of students. Why? Why pursue this career? Why are you here? Why does such-and-such thing happen? School should be a place that strives to build up students, to have them think critically and face the uncertainties of life with a raised chin. It should not be a place that accommodates stagnation, self-aggrandizement or sheltering oneself from ideas and beliefs different than one’s own. It is a place that educates, that shows us the world we live in and allows us the capability to lead, to think and to grow. By not challenging us, the professors would be stifling our learning and that cannot happen. That is why our school has days such as Tuesday to have professors bounce ideas back and forth and find better ways to educate the youth in an ever-changing word.

 

We get a day off, and it’s great. We get to sleep in and do nothing. We can afford that moment of lax bliss. But what students forget is the reasonings behind these things. An educator cannot afford to stand idly when the road of excellence is ever expanding outward. One can never reach the end but to not continue on the journey means an end of the journey. And when a teacher ends their journey for excellence, they cease to be an educator but an arbiter of stagnation. The sole responsibility of a teacher, an educator, is the personal growth of their students. That is what happened on Tuesday. We all know that one good teacher. For whatever reason, there is something about them that we cannot forget but somehow they have changed and touched our lives. It is because they continue on that path of excellence. They strive for it. And if you’re open to it, you will find someone like that here, too.

Giving What is Precious

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It flows through our veins. It is both the symbolic and literal essence of life within us. Blood, it has many connotations, and its importance is as much a part of us as the heart that beats it and the words that give it its poigance in our lives. And it is this importance that has ironically led to its spillage. Wars both small and large have resulted in its waste. From the streets of Chicago to the battlefields of distant lands, blood is a tangible resource and its value forgotten and yet remembered.

 

Here in the United States, a shocking statistic is that most blood centers barely have enough blood for a few days at a time, if that. Most of the time they are hemoragging blood, pardon the pun. That’s where these blood drives come in. Every year, we have several blood drives at Saint Xavier. And every time, it is a packed house. This semester, people had to wait for hours since the lines were backed up, and the organization that was doing the blood drive was overburdened. Now you can say this was an unfortunate incident with an unorganized company. But I say it was the real spirit of the SXU community.

 

This school is built on the spirit of giving, of sharing. The Sisters of Mercy are renown for its commitment to service. It is one of the very pillars in which this school has been founded on. And every aspect of life here has something to do with it. From the service club that sends volunteers for the bread truck or the drives that collect clothing or school supplies for those less fortunate, there is always something going on that take the chance to help someone. That was exemplified this week with the blood drive. Dozens of students took time out of their days and in many cases, including mine, missed class for a chance to contribue if only a little to help. Because that’s what this community is about, that is why I have remained here and am confident in SXU’s core values.

 

When I was a child, my father told me a story, actually more like a series of great epics of his life in a poor village to a great war in his homeland to his escape to America. And the only part he always remembered telling me was the time he donated blood. It was prior to his visa being approved to come here after the Vietnam War. He said that, “if this land takes me in, I give them what is most precious to me for it has given what is most precious to it.” It is that commitment to service that was exemplified by my father, by this school and by this community which I find so inspiring. We hear so much sadness in the world. And as a result, some people find it difficult to find a reason to try and make a difference. How can someone be the change they want to see if they don’t work at it. A mountain is not built from the top most rock down. It takes the small stones that form its base. And it is the practice of giving that allows mountains of change to occur.

An Art Talk

When you enter Saint Xavier’s Visual Arts Center, you often are met by silence and the occasional sound of the extremely noisy ventilation above the nave. The smell of paint thinner and charcoal present in the air tells of the place’s purpose. But this week was different. Instead of the tranquil silence of the VAC which would allow artists the quietness they need for work, there was a steady murmur of focused dialogue. The smell of paint is replaced by caramel and apples. The nave, empty of all but the movable panel walls for paintings and photo prints, is now filled with chairs and people intent to listen and analyze.

This week, we had a very important and memorable event at the Saint Xavier Art Department. Every semester, the Art Department hosts two senior seminar art critiques, one for the midterm and another for the final. It is always exciting to see the progress of fellow students and getting inspiration from them. There was a lot of interesting projects and theses.

This year, we had a smaller graduating class of seniors than the year prior, eight in total. Seven of them I knew on a personal level. It was amazing seeing the hard work they had pushed out this first half of the semester. As an artist, it proved an invaluable experience as I prepare to take their place next year. It is often said among the seniors that senior critique is a grueling and terrifying time to be at hand. While that may be true in certain regards, it is also a very rewarding and liberating time as well. The professors giving detailed and poignant advice and critiques on certain pieces, which opens one’s eyes to what is to be expected and what areas one should focus on.

Open to the public, the art critiques are wonderful events for people to come by and see what exactly goes on in the Art Department and what our promising young people are dreaming up. Here at Saint Xavier, we’re known for our Nursing and Education departments. But it should be remembered for its artists as well. Often times, the works of art that decorate Saint Xavier and give the walls and halls color are from the people that once walked those same halls wondering of what the next painting or sculpture or photo would entail.

The Sunset on Campus

The crisp cool air is quite the refreshing taste as the day winds down to a close. It is the lasting feeling of a renewed autumn season. The campus quiets down as people trot off to wherever it is they are going. The squirrels chatter and scurry along, as I hear the sound of a dog and their owner in the distance. But there’s a sound that disrupts the sounds of silence. A deep rumble from across Lake Marion humbles the sounds of the bathing geese. By narrowest of margins, victory is achieved and the roar of exalted crowds bellow toward the sunset on campus. It is the Homecoming game!

Every year, Homecoming brings to the campus of Saint Xavier an energy and excitement that rejuvenates the sleepy campus grounds during the weekends where the only folks around are the diner workers and the resident students. During the school week, the campus is thriving with people hurrying and shuffling along. But during the weekend, the morning is a quiet haven for elderly people taking a nice quiet stroll always eager to say hello, and the evening is a quiet time for a walk with music. But this weekend was different. Crowds of folks from the community came for the annual Cougar 5K and excited college students were preparing for the Homecoming Dance or recovering from the Heritage Ball that Friday. Masses of hundreds strolled along the green quad and the pale sidewalks and asphalt streets. It was a marvelous sight to see, so many people from the community coming together for the annual Cougar 5K. And after the race was over, families with children and couples, old and young, took a nice stroll around the serenity of an empty campus on the weekend.

Living on campus for the past three years, I find myself longing for that quiet stillness of the quiet campus. But for Saturday, it was refreshing to see all those people. It was a lovely sight to see all those people coming together. There was a nostalgia, a warm and almost melancholic sort of feeling of right after school when the excitement of going home from a long day at school was finally at hand. I enjoy the energy of these people populating the campus. It’s unpredictable but that’s what makes living on campus a story on its own.

Beverly Art Walk

Gray dusty-looking clouds, an unpleasant dampness in the air, there’s a cold chill in the wind that never gives a reprieve for those outside. That’s what it should have felt like. But the sounds of rain pattering on the sidewalk and the skidding of tires on wet asphalt was drowned out. I heeded no sounds of sirens or of disconcerting chatter and fits of cigarette-induced coughing. I saw no stoic men in blue or sad dirty faces or the frail forms of old women outside hurrying to wherever they were going. There were all inside, away from the cold chatting and laughing at a common thing to behold. All I heard and saw was the common love for art. This weekend was the annual Beverly Art Walk, a one-day event that brings together the local artists of the Beverly area and the greater community of Chicago.

Here in Chicago, the arts scene is very much alive, and Beverly is no exception. Artists working in oils, others in ceramics and others working with what they’ve found lying on the sidewalk all coming together for a whole day showing their practice in a massive open reception for all to see. A stone’s throw away from Saint Xavier University, the Beverly Art Walk was a sight to behold. Packs of people hopping onto the trolly on a scenic route through the major parts of the Beverly area with stops at the studios and homes of many prominent local artists.

Portrait in Broken glass by Dalton Brown

Portrait in broken glass by Dalton Brown

One such artist I met was Dalton Brown, a prolific black artist whose primary theme in his works is “seeing and feeling.” Working in oil paints, he began dabbling with broken glass due to his background. The picture above is of one of his portraits. What first caught my eye was that it was done in broken glass he collects. The glass is from alcohol bottles which are a meaningful part of the piece since he said the portraits were of members of his family who were or have dealt with alcoholism. He had a lot of good advice for fellow artists: He said it’s not enough that an artist paints or does their craft; they also have to be able to “see and feel” what it is they’re doing. Without that passion for art, it will show in the quality and the heart of the heart.

Wall dedicated to prospective Saint Xavier Students from neighboring high schools.

Wall dedicated to prospective Saint Xavier students from neighboring high schools.

 

Wall dedicated to Saint Xavier

Wall dedicated to  Saint Xavier students.

SXU Beverly Art Walk Mural Wall

SXU Beverly Art Walk Mural Wall

One of two pieces of mine showcased at the SXU Beverly Art Walk Gallery.

One of two pieces of my work showcased at the SXU Beverly Art Walk.

Here at Saint Xavier, we didn’t have that problem. While renowned for our education and nursing programs, SXU has a thriving and well-respected artistic community of which I am part of. For the past three years, SXU has had its own gallery location to showcase the art of current students, alumni and of prospective high schoolers. It was a wonderful thing to see professors from the University and members of the community come and support us and the school and those hopefully soon on their way to join the SXU community. We probably had a good 300 people come through over the course of the day. We had a huge wall, which we left blank for anyone and everyone to come and leave their mark. Children barely able to walk and elderly folks in walkers and canes all came together to create art filled with more than skill but heart. The most meaningful part of the whole event for the SXU Gallery, in my opinion, was being able to talk to the high schoolers, the fresh faces on the block, and learn about their art endeavors, see where they were coming from in their mindsets and give them tips. For now, it is done. But the future is unknowable and uncertain. I just hope to see those fresh faces on campus here at Saint Xavier.