Opposites Unite!

There is a part of Saint Xavier University that most students don’t even know exists. Or if they do know where it is, might not ever go see it. Nestled in a quiet tree-lined street with the sounds of children coming home from school and a lawnmower is the Visual Arts Center. A former church turned school building, it is one of the most unique locations here at Saint Xavier. As an art major, the Visual Arts Center, or VAC, is much more than just the building for the Art Department. On the SXU website, it is called a “sanctuary” of studios with a computer lab and student art gallery. It is a place in which art majors can get away from the hustle and bustle of the main campus and focus on their craft with their fellow artists and friends. With the smell of oil paints and the cheery whistle of a certain professor, it has a special charm that draws students on the weekends. And it is this place that allows myself and others to showcase our talents.

Every year, there are a number of art shows taking place at the Visual Arts Center. There is the Scholarship Recipient Art Show and at least one themed art show to accompany it. The most recent art show took place for the past four weeks. This week, we had the closing reception to the Opposites Unite! Art Show where six pairs of art students collaborated and created six unique, binary works of art. Over the last four weeks, the students who received the opportunity to be part of the art show took time out of their days to work tirelessly to create these enormous works of art. For myself and my partner, the theme we chose was dreams and nightmares. It was a thrill to work together to create something as expansive and ambitious as our artwork. Dozens of people showed up to take a look at the show, and we even got to give a little speech on our work. This being the first art show I had participated at Saint Xavier proved to be both a rewarding and exciting experience.

Now that the show is over, there is a certain emptiness about the VAC’s gallery. The walls are now bare again as the artworks are rolled up and stored away for safe keeping. The sound tape being pulled and paper being rolled up just has a certain sadness in my thoughts that made it almost feel like a goodbye or packing up to move away. The last month of work was now in a few minutes being put away only for the cycle to return again. But perhaps like spring, there always has to be winter. Without one part dying off, how will another grow in its place? And so the walls stand empty, and I’m forced to clean the mess we left behind only for it all to begin again with a brand new flyer on the door.

Those Silent Stones

This Saturday, I accompanied a dear friend of mine to visit his grandparents’ graves on his mother’s side. This was not the first time I had accompanied him to visit the graves of his family. A few weeks prior, I had joined him along with a mutual friend to lay flowers upon his great-grandparents’ graves. The worn stone jutted out of the ground as if it was a person sitting tranquilly on the well-kept grass. The cemetery was enormous; in fact, it was so vast that we found ourselves lost in the forest of still stones. I had meant to write about this the week it had occurred but only now have the words come to me to make it worthy for this reflection…

Every culture, no matter where or when, has had some form of veneration of those that had come before us. And it is often stated that the day man buried their dead was the day man became human. I truly believe that. You do not have to be religious to have that innate respect for the dead. And while no words can elucidate or substantiate the loss of a beloved, what could not be said is written in the drips that fall when that coffin is lowered or the roar of the pyre sound. The sting of death can be numbed when surrounded by those dear and those of which the haunting vestige of an empty seat can mask. But there is a sadness beyond the obvious in a cemetery. There is a taciturnity, a solemn vigil that if one were to stroll the paths invoke in the heart.

There is nothing more gut-wrenching in my heart than an old grave. I do not mean a grave of a person from 100 years ago, I mean one that which nature has reclaimed. When the leaves and grime collect and the grass grows thick, the lasting memory of those that which should be venerated is lost. When our mutual friend laid an incense stick for my friend’s grandparent’s graves, I was struck by an old grave. The grass was thick and wild and had all but buried the flat stone. Digging in the dirt and tearing the grass and loam like a cheap carpet, I was struck by what I saw, the grave of a veteran of the First World War. It should be without question that there should be reverence or at least a genuine respect for those that shed their blood for their homeland. For me, to see the derelict corpse of stone of this man’s grave was something of a realization. Those silent stones of which one passes by on the freeway paying no heed are those people. Of course not literally but in the heart those worn and barely visible etchings of a person’s identity pay testimony to what we value as a people. When does someone stop becoming worthy of remembrance? When the grave a soldier that fought the Nazis in the Second World War is left to decay and be buried by the earth to be forgotten with only a cheap department store flag next to it, is that how far we have become detached from our history. Those stones are our history and we are the grave keepers until it is our turn to be those still stones.

They Were In Service

Photo by Thomas E. Franklin

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It is a day in which the families of the slain mourn their beloved dead, and we that do live take pause for remembrance. In a world that every day appears to grow increasingly militant and apathetic, it is the moments of sentimentality and earnest truth that we flock to. And institutions such as Saint Xavier take to heart a pledge to fulfill those truths.

Here at Saint Xavier, mercy and service are words that are as common as hello and goodbye. Founded by the Sisters of Mercy, this school has had a long and decorated history in the belief and practice of mercy and service in charity and goodwill to the misfortunate. But what do those words mean in the larger context of the world? What kind of potency do they have in the hearts and minds of people? Words are one thing but do they have substance to suffice the enormous baggage that those words bear, especially on days such as today? We only have to look at the heroism and self-sacrifice of the emergency workers that worked and perished 15 years ago.

Four hundred and eleven. That is the number of emergency workers that died in the largest terrorist attack on US soil. That’s 411 families which lost a beloved. And that does not even begin to account for the number of affected that knew and loved those who passed. Service, a word that has many meanings, according to its context, but one in particular stands above the rest, “contributing to the welfare of others.” When police kept the panic crowds from turning into horrendous trampling rivers, they were performing service to their city and their fellow citizens as expected of any officer of the law. Despite the horrible things we heard regarding the actions of the police that perhaps overreach their authority, we must remember their purpose and role in our communities, selfless service. After all, sixty police officers lost their lives doing the job they swore to do, protecting the people.

When the brave firefighters of the FDNY rushed forth into the burning and chaotic inferno of the Twin Towers, a distinction became clear. When people say those firefighters weren’t thinking of themselves as they rushed into the inferno, they are grossly wrong. Firefighters are human as you and I. They feared for their lives as any person. But what is so inspiring and distinguishes those wearing the black and yellow fire jackets and the citizens they were sworn to protect was the choice. They chose to run back. They chose to cast aside their own self-preservation in the sworn duty of service. Those that perished and those that linger, stricken by illness for their heroic deeds that day are reminders to us all of the importance of service. They should be remembered not as superhuman or the brave exceptional but instead as the valiant standard of which we all should strive as citizens of not just this country but of the world to be.

“Not everyone can be a hero, but we can all take that step toward the life of service.” -Chris Thach 

Seeing Old Faces

Every year, a new crop of students leaves Saint Xavier and every year a new crop comes in. In my time here, I have seen friends walk across the stage to receive their diplomas while others leave for one reason or another. The rather sizable list of cherished friends that remain here grows thinner each year as they depart. With each graduation, I am reminded of my temporary time here and of such relationships as poignant and yet so rewarding as friendship. For some, they come and go as does the snow of winter, while others stick around like pine sap on one’s fingers. But nevertheless, the sting of time and the cyclical motion of our lives can dampen even the most optimistic and happy-go-lucky person. And yet it seems as if time is convoluted.

Faces I could have sworn had moved on to greener pastures to pursue their respected careers are here before me sitting and chatting with those of us that remained as if they had never left. And nothing is more beautifying of the day than seeing a close friend greet you and offer a seat across the table to chat away the day on the latest happenings and gossip. Every year is different here and yet the feelings, the friends and the daily conversations do not; and perhaps that’s the cyclical habit that I don’t mind keeping.

Every day I enter the bustling SXU Diner, I am confronted by the absurdly wacky and over-the-top residents of the “corner,” the area of the diner adjacent to the Student Lounge lined with sitting booths. It is this place that I call a home away from home. It is here that one meets the people that they will be friends with for the rest of their days. They almost make the sun rise, if I may be so sentimental in my description. Confusingly absurd in their own right, the eccentric and whimsical members of the corner are what make life here exciting. There is not a “normal” person there, myself including. Every quirk of ours is a result of a lifetime of strangeness. Those of us in the corner can have rather strange hobbies and mannerisms to the normals as we call them. And make no mistake, everyone has a rather interesting outlook on life. For myself, I find living life as surprise-filled and as blithe as possible to be a rather fun life to be had. This offsets my dear friend and roommate’s rather controlled and orderly existence. But one thing we can both agree, it’s never boring at the corner. And when I am seeing old faces, I can’t help but feel that warm feeling of both nostalgia and anticipation of what is to come next. Because despite the constant change of time and my love for the unexpected and the noveties of life, I know at least one place remains the same.

And So It Begins Again

And so it begins again. After a summer of listlessness and procrastination, the school year has now begun once again here at Saint Xavier. The sea of emerald and forest green has been cut low to gently bristle the toes. The looming trees that line the road remain standing tall to shade the palaces of which one reads on a summer day. Cicadas sing their nostalgic song of childhood days gone by remaining from high up in the trees, the steamy air of summer still gushes to tell us ‘not yet.’ And as that first day began, the sight of lost doe-eyed freshmen brings back a sense of amusing youth and nostalgic naivety to the school grounds.

It’s a marvel to be had seeing the faces of those first years and remembering that once we were so. With their nice collared shirts and prim and proper summer dresses, their almost foreign appearance becomes apparent in the sea of dull-eyed upperclassmen. It is so out of place seeing these magazine catalogue-looking kids walking down the hall with almost a swagger about them. And despite the small gap in our ages and my own youthful age, I feel old, old in heart and temperament. While they walk aimlessly playing the latest mobile game, I yearn for the free days that I may remember such a time that I was able to wander into the park district and fish for snails along the rocky shores or weaving words into a story of people and places and places with people and people from places. Like an old man watching rambunctious children walk off to school while he remains glued to his stoop, I find myself content in my amusement of the strangeness of youth as if I am somehow separate from it as if I were somehow detached.

Perhaps it is I that is out of place as I sit lazily in the diner with worn sandals and dirt-covered sweats and Tee. Is it really the excitement and nervous fright of the first years that should be alien to this school as so many others? Does feeling a sense of adventure in the sea of the mundanity of those of us accustomed to life here so wrong? I wonder if such a feeling as that is such a bad thing in this place that sings a song of flight. We all want to get out and get into the real world but when we’re there we want to go back to these carefree days when being a kid was something we took for granted. And here, I feel myself at a crossroads. The nervous fright of nearing the end of my time here begins to loom over me now. The eventual bidding of farewell to friends only a year older draws near every day. Here I am hapless as I inch towards the inevitable day when I will be left only to remember those days when nothing but what I’d do tomorrow mattered. It is these things that bring up this bitter and yet so sickly sweet nostalgia for those endless summer days that have me stepping back to that warm feeling of independence from home but still knowing I had a place to go back to. But perhaps the misguided ventures of the first years are just the end of that same accustom they had the year before as their days as high school students went by. And perhaps it is that same feeling of adventure and nervous excitement that will come when I am handed that diploma and take my first step out the door on my way to work. And so it begins again and the days count on as they had done before.

A New Day

This year has seemed so short in its passing and yet so much has been done and has happened. I have finished my second year here at Saint Xavier and it doesn’t seem real. I am going to be a junior in the fall. To be honest, it’s frightening to see that my school career here is already halfway over. It seems like only a short time ago I was still a high schooler anxious of my future in college. Now, I am a college student and I am anxious about what the future after college will be like. Much thought has gone through my head as this year became the pivotal moment in my and my family’s life. My father is retiring after twenty-odd years of hard manual work, and with that, a new change in our family dynamic. It is said that sophomore year is when a student “gets it.” What that is can be debated. Is it when a student finally realizes that their major was the wrong one? Or is it that they realize what they were called for, in the lack of a better word? I find it to be the latter. After volunteering at the Salem United Church of Christ’s PAPS or Homeless Shelter and with SXU’s Bread Truck and just interacting with people, I realized that I did indeed pick the right career in mind. I found that going out there and helping others was not just the wholesome thing a person should do but also a fun one. There is no point in a career or education if you’re not having fun. I want to enjoy what I’m doing in my livelihood. That is what I believe.

Finals are next week. I have my first one tomorrow. I’m not completely stressed out like a lot of my friends, but it does have me thinking. Once they are done with, what is there to do? What more can I do here until next semester? And what am I to do this summer? I am hopeful that I will get a job to help support my family. Since my brother is graduating college in the next two weeks, there is an excitement and an anxiety for him as well. Will he get a job following graduation? Will my parents be able to pay the payments of the Parent Plus Loan? All these spiral in my head as I crack a carefree joke to my friends. I don’t want to be a bother, and so I keep it away. This is my problem, why share it? Maybe that’s my mistake. But I can’t worry about that now, finals are here.

I feel that this year was a good one. I made new friends and cemented ones I know will last me a lifetime. My heart warms and pangs at the knowledge that many will graduate this year while I will be left behind. I live far away and visiting them is beyond the question. But I am confident this is not the end. I smile knowing that, but I frown for the future. I feel anxious looking to what the future entails, but I am hopeful that at least this step in my life is over and much more are to come as my aspirations to become a teacher draw ever nearer. Now I look out my window, the sun is setting. End comes this day but there comes the promise of tomorrow which is uncertain. Uncertain as it is, it is beautiful what this new day shall bring.

Senior Art Show

This week marked a very important occasion for the Art Department at Saint Xavier of which I am a part of. This Saturday, April 23, was the second half of the senior art show of which the artists of the Senior Seminar course showed to their instructors as well as their families and friends all of which they have achieved this year as well as what they have done since they begun their education at Saint Xavier. There were beautiful traditional drawings, informative and beautifully designed information posters, digital design and more. The reason why I enjoy these shows and why I encourage all students and anyone really to check them out is because of what they represent. These pieces are the products of nearly half a decade of work here at Saint Xavier. It shows what the school has to offer in the old field of fine arts. While SXU is known for its nursing program and its business program, the institution has a thriving and strong Art Department that I am lucky to be a part of. Below will be some examples of the art shown in this half of the art show. What I want to discuss in this blog is the significance of this show and the SXU Art Department as a whole for us art majors. The reason I am writing about this is because of the thoughts that have begun flowing in my own mind of what it will be like for me in Senior Seminar in two years.

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The Art Department at SXU is small. The entire department is located within a simple protestant church down the road from campus. Due to its small size, both location and faculty-wise, there is a much more casual and close relation between students and teachers. Most of us who are in the department are on a first name basis with our professors, cracking jokes and snarky comments unheard of in other departments. As a result, we realize that a professor does not have to be the distant and hard-to-approach mentor we once thought but a human being that like us who shares the same hopes and aspirations and fears we do. There is no need to be afraid to talk to them, but we are them and they are us. Education is not a one-way transference of information. It’s a collaboration, a sharing of knowledge to better ourselves. That is a major reason why I feel that I made the right choice. I’m sure other universities have similar going ons at their art departments but I feel that with our small size, there is more room for connections that could not be possible if anywhere else. There’s a lot on my plate but seeing some of my close friends succeed in this endeavor has given me some steel to push on steadfast.

Bread, A Service Introspection

At Saint Xavier, there is a required general education course that all undergraduates must take in order to graduate, community-based learning. Some high schools may also have this as part of their requirements. CBL, as it is more colloquially called, is an aspect of a class that involves the participation and appreciation of service in the lesson plan for the course. Service, it is, in my opinion, the core value of SXU. We hear it all the time — service, community service, volunteer service. All of this wordplay, but what does it actually mean? This week, I participated in an SXU service opportunity that occurs every Monday and Thursday afternoons, Bread Truck. In it, we went to several locations in the neighborhood, including an area known as Back of the Yards that has a predominantly Latino, many newly arrived immigrants, and black population with much of the populace at or below the poverty line. For those students that may not have experienced the level of poverty that those living in the area endure, it may be a shock, an eye-opener of one salient facet of Chicago. But for those of us, including myself,that indeed experienced the level of poverty they currently experienced, it was a reminder of painful memories and an ever constant thought in the back of our heads, the feeling of true hunger. It is a human right, I believe, that all people should be fed, never to go hungry. Millions around the world and here at home suffer that terrible pain. It is services like the Port Ministries Bread Truck that bring light to this issue and attempt to elevate it. That is what I wish to discuss in this week’s introspection, service.

We, as citizens of this nation have the opportunity and duty to our fellow citizens, the downdraught and destitute. I often hear the word privilege used in a manner, especially today, that is jarring and divisive. I, myself, do not like the word. Instead, I find opportunity a better fit. It allows us, with our financial and social standing, to achieve things to a degree that those that cannot are able to. When you think hard and long on this issue, a thought comes to mind. Would I want someone to do the same? I’m pretty sure we’d all want someone to help us get back on our feet. All of us would want not to go hungry. When you look into the eyes of these people, you see a part of yourself in them. When you drive through Chicago and see these people asking for money from car to car or out front of the Art Institute, it’s easy to ignore them and hope they don’t ask you. But once you hand them a paper bag with food, when you see them beam as they humbly accept the meal, you can no longer ignore them and it is hard. But this is life. WE all have a duty to our fellow man. This is what Saint Xavier University desires in its students, and it is something we all should strive for, service.

The Canvas is Blank

Art has been a very important part of my life growing up. But I never saw it as a viable career path since, to be frank, I was not very good at it. It was only during my last two years in high school that I was able to fully appreciate the craft as it pertains to me and bring myself to the level of which I am now. Now, it is my second year at Saint Xavier, and I am fully engaged in my path toward becoming an art teacher. As an artist and an appreciator of art, museums and art galleries are a welcome change of sight from the normal pace of school here at Saint Xavier. This week, I had a fantastic opportunity to see both. On Thursday, my Digital Imagery class went to the Art Institute of Chicago. There we went and saw many pieces of wonderful and intriguing art pieces. My favorites include, “Festival in Montmartre” by Gino Severini, “Terracotta Decorative Panel” by Louis H. Sullivan and “The Banquet” by Rene Magritte. Here are the three pieces:
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This wasn’t the first time I went to the Art Institute. In fact, I’ve been there about six times and each time I’ve learned something new. But like my art professor said, museums are where art made by dead people hangs; galleries are where art made by living people hangs. You can only learn so much by looking. Sometimes you have to ask and listen.

On Saturday, there was the Senior Art Seminar gallery opening. There were dozens of people who came to the SXU campus gallery to see the hard work of the seniors in the Art Department. A lot of my friends were there and it was nice to see their progress and what the future for myself entailed. One of my friends displayed a beautifully constructed miniature house with a film projected on it displaying his pet insects and arthropods. Another student displayed dozens of black-and-white photographs of locations across Chicago in which a person was murdered. It was hauntingly beautiful — the serenity of the photos – while knowing full well that someone had lost their life there. It really broadens my understanding of the media and the depth of an artist’s concept.

For this week, I’d like to discuss the importance of exploring the field in which we pursue. I often hear people entering careers as a result of their parent’s urging. It’s a problem we all might face. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a parent having high expectations for their children. In fact, I would encourage it as it shows that anything less is unacceptable, at least for me. But there needs to be a restraint on that notion. Students need to be able to fully examine their own path and horizons if they are to be happy with the career they seek. Leave no stone unturned on your path and be sure to never regret it. This path we seek is ours, not our teachers or our parents. It is ours of which our lives will revolve around. The canvas is there; we just need to think of what to paint.

Spring Has Come

It is the week after Easter. School has begun again and with it, a new change. Spring has come to the city in gusto and with it comes the air of opportunity. The change of the seasons always brings about new possibilities. There is something sentimental of the end of something and the beginning of another. But like every opportunity, you can either take it or leave it. That is what I wish to discuss in this week’s introspection. What do we do when the opportunity presents itself? The answer to that question speaks volumes to a person’s character.

There are times in which we may feel aimless. I know for us college students, it is by far one of our most salient issues in this pivotal time in our lives. Is this career the right fit for me? Am I happy with what I’m doing? It is quite easy to just stay stagnant, to embrace the status quo rather than taking the hard road and really evaluating what it is that we as students desire for our futures. I know for myself this is the case. I am a low-energy person. If it can be done in fewer and faster steps, I’ll do it, even if the outcome is subpar to a more time managed process. But this is not the right thing to do every time. As individuals growing up and developing as adults, we need to understand that all of that is determined on our self-evaluation into what exactly is us. Are we content? Is content even good enough? Sometimes we have to take the hard road and dismantle and deconstruct what exactly it is that we seek here at the university.

Like most colleges and universities, Saint Xavier has a Career Services Center and advisors that guide students along and listen to their concerns. I happen to have advisors from both the Art Department and School of Education. While it is important for us as students to evaluate our lives, we mustn’t forget that we have people here to help us along the way. It’s part of their job to assist us on our educational journey. Being able to work within and with others is an important part of learning who we are. It is by self-evaluation that we can have new beginnings. For the spring to come, we must bear the harsh winter.