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.

My Favorite Places (On Campus)

Saint Xavier University may indeed be a small campus; although, what it lacks in size it makes up for with quality. Before I had made my decision to come to this school a few years back I took a campus tour and immediately fell in love with it. SXU has not only historical pieces from the first campus, such as the arch, but also, it has newer places to relax, such as the small pond next to Mercy Circle. I will be discussing in this post my three favorite outdoor spots on campus that I go to relax, study, snack or even to just admire the view.

1. The first favorite place on campus to go to is hands down Lake Marion. This lake catches my eye every time I make my way from my dorm to either my classes or the gym and vice versa. There are benches along the edge of the lake that allow my friends and I to just sit and gaze from sunset to sunrise. You could also take a walk on the path along the lake.

Lake Marion : the go to spot

Lake Marion is the No. 1 go-to spot!

2. My second favorite place to go on campus is the center of the quad. The school’s crest is engraved in the pavement. There are trees all around the crest along with benches to sit on. This is the place I go to whenever I want to meet up with my friends who live in different dorms and just goof around. This is also a great place to sit and read a book before class with a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks. On my way back from class, I prefer to walk through this area because of not only its beauty but for seeing the friendly faces on campus.

Center of Quad : the hangout

The center of quad is another great hangout place.

3. My third personal favorite place to be on campus is Mercy Circle. It is an area that is similar to the above stated places, but it is a lot more quiet and closed off. It is a place I go to just study and relax. The pine trees encase the area so it is private. There is a statue of the Virgin Mary, and I’m normally on the ledge of the area by the statue. This is a perfect space if it is a gorgeous day outside and you need a minute to yourself after class.

Mercy Circle: the spot to go to for peace and serenity

The Mercy Circle is the perfect spot to go to for peace and serenity.

I hope you check out these places for yourself and feel free to comment below what your favorite outdoor spot on campus is.

My Education Motivation

Entering college is an important step in the life of a student. It is the last stepping stone before the adult world and the rest of your life. For me, college is where I make my mark. Not only on and off campus but in my family. There are numerous things that motivate me to continue my education. However, the most important factor pushing me to do so is the fact that I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college.

Being the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college would be a milestone, not only for me but for my family. It has been said by some that the ones who do not go to college or do not finish were never smart enough to do so. This is the biggest misconception about these men and women. For one, college is not for everybody. Others are called to do other things or follow their dreams in a different direction. For my parents, it was all about their families. Both of my parents had huge family obligations during their time in college which, unfortunately, did not allow them to finish college. However, that never stopped them from becoming very successful in their lives. Due to their hard work in their jobs and with my family, they have been able to put my two younger brothers and I through private education, not to mention a roof over our heads and food on the table. It is my destiny to graduate from college and make them proud.

Another part of that motivation to complete my college education is my two youngest brothers. The middle child, Alex, is currently a freshman in high school; while my youngest brother, Michael, is in second grade. It is very important to me, as the oldest brother, to pave the road and set the example for my younger brothers. I want them to witness what success is so that they themselves will settle for no less. For Alex, his high school journey is just beginning. As our college and high school careers grow, there will be a time where we will both be graduating at the same time. I need him to see his older brother graduate from college so that he may have the confidence in himself to do the same. As for Michael, college is a long time away for him. However, when he sees his two older brothers graduate from high school and college, he will be more motivated to do exactly the same and grow up to be just like us.

My motivation is a chain reaction; I want to make everybody proud and impact their lives in one way or the other. I am the oldest sibling in my family, and I am moving toward being the first person in my family to hit this milestone. It would mean the world to not only my family but to myself, knowing that I had finally succeeded in something so vital in life. I will continue to grind and work hard and will not stop until I get that diploma. This is my motivation! It will help make my destiny a reality.

Living with Roommates

Residence life is a great way to not only get involved with the school but make friends on campus. While living on campus, I have made so many friends. Since attending Saint Xavier University, I’ve dealt with almost every scenario with a roommate. Each thing that had occurred though had made me learn a valuable life lesson on handling situations. I’ve made lifelong friends as well as grown distant with some friends, none of which I would take back since it has made me grow as a person.

Regina Hall (Freshman Year)
My first experience with a roommate was my freshman year, and she was LITERALLY non-existent because my roommate never showed up. I had a room all to myself, and believe me, it was great! I had been given the chance to decorate my room however I wanted. I had a spare bed for my friends when they came to visit. I combined both desks to form a “super desk.” I even used the extra dresser as a pantry to store all my snacks. The only problem was that sometimes it would get really lonely. Even though I had so much space, there were times I wish I had a roommate to share experiences with as well.

For four weeks, I had a room to myself until I met a girl who was on the cheerleading team with me. We instantly became friends, and when she told me she was having issues with her roommate, I offered for her to come live with me. That week she moved in, and I no longer had that feeling of being alone. Not to mention when she moved in, the room looked much livelier, since there was more stuff to fill the room. We would have late night conversations, snack, do each other’s hair and makeup, go to practice together and rescue each other.

There were two girls who lived directly across the hall from us whom we both became close friends with. We instantly knew we were destined to be future roommates, including our close friend who lived six doors down the hall. It came to the point that we would just leave our doors open so we could easily come in and out of our rooms to hang out. Our little group would eat, sleep, study, motivate, sing, dance, play games, and even play pranks on one another. We would even have conversations from our separate rooms because the dorms were that close to each other. We had formed such a strong bond that we couldn’t imagine living with anyone else.

O’Brien Hall (Sophomore Year)
The four of us girls from that second floor of Regina Hall couldn’t wait to move into our new building we currently live in. We finally had our own microwave, toaster oven, and bathroom. (If you’ve lived in Regina Hall, you’d understand the struggle.) Having these girls as my roommates is a dream come true. I mean who wouldn’t want to live with their best friends. We do all the stuff we did before and more. The first week back we had all binged watched in our living room the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” One of my roommates and I designated a napping schedule. Our sleep schedules have become so in sync that we wake up in the middle of the night around the same time.

Studying has become not only easier but a lot more fun. We do our studies in our living room and when someone is stressing out over something, we tell a joke or share a funny story to lighten the mood. My roommates and I even motivate each other to do better in everything that we do. Our support system is strong and gets stronger with every day that passes. I can’t thank Saint Xavier University enough for not only giving me a place to call home but for giving me my best friends. There’s no better feeling than coming back to my dorm at the end of the day and seeing three girls smiling and yelling with excitement “Amber’s back!” It’s honestly the best thing ever having roommates — especially mine!

My roommates and I wearing matching SXU rain jackets

My roommates and I wearing matching SXU rain jackets.

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 

RA Genesis Reporting for Duty

Week three is down, everyone! Congratulations, and on to another week – here we go!

This past week has been somewhat crazy for me! I had my first exam of the year and had a whole bunch of meetings. On the exciting news front, I had an interview for a new work study position but won’t know for a while. I will update you all when I find out though, so send positive vibes my way!

IMG_1909This past week, I have been on duty in Regina Hall for a couple of evenings. Being on duty as a resident assistant (RA) involves me staying up and going through the building to make sure everything is all good. Part of this also involves answering residents if they have a concern or complaint about really anything. Being a RA means so much more than this job description. I love being a RA. I love being in the hall present for my residents. I love getting to live with our new first year class of 2020. I love the conversations I have had about their lives: how they want to get involved and listening to them share their hopes and dreams. I am truly excited to get to work with this whole building — even our staff is awesome! I feel truly blessed to not only have a great class that I get to work with but also a supportive staff team.

On Saturday, the first Super Saturday took place in Regina Hall. Super Saturday was sponsored by the Transition Peer Mentors (TPMs) program (another job I have). Super Saturdays are events that occur every Saturday while school is in session that gives residents a reason to stay on campus and is open to commuters wanting to get involved on campus. It’s a great way to have everyone come together! Every Super Saturday has a different theme and a different focus. Our theme was “Beach and Chill” and we had a fantastic turnout! There were different games, fruit kabobs, s’mores, and great music. This great and enthusiastic turnout makes all of us staff so excited about this year!

I have also been working on fellow RA Liz and my RA Board of the Month for September. I have never cut and traced so many letters! FullSizeRender (29)But I feel crazy lucky to have my freshman year roommate, Brittany, to help me trace letters! It still took me forever to work on it, but because of her, I saved me so much time. Thanks, love!

I hope everyone has a great fourth week of school. I am truly loving this weather, especially with it cooling off. I hope this lovely weather continues and wish everyone luck with classes. Thanks for reading!

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.

Cougars and Cubs

Greetings, readers! The second week of college is in the books for yours truly and things keep looking better and better every week. The first week of school was an introduction on what is to come, while the second week gave me a taste of what I’ll be doing the rest of the year and how much work I will have to put in to succeed. This week was definitely a positive one, and in every way, it went how I had planned. It consisted of a lot of studying and writing, while also coming with a bit of fun and new experiences to help me fit into Saint Xavier.

For one, I have memorized all of my classrooms by heart. It honestly didn’t take that long, and I am able to find my classes without any problems now. My class schedule is another reason why I am enjoying college. In high school, I was always in the same loop, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. My college schedule is a lot more flexible, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy going to my first set of classes at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. every day. I have also found some great spots to study and hangout, such as the diner and near the main entrance of the school.

One of the keys to success in college is to be comfortable with your surroundings. The atmosphere of the university allows me to do so and I am actually more inclined to stay on campus to do things like homework and hang out than to just go to class and go home right after.

Saint Xavier has already given me many opportunities to socialize and get to know people through many different events and activities. I wasted little time by doing so by purchasing a ticket through the school to attend the Chicago Cubs game on Wednesday. Being a huge Cubs fan and seeing a very reasonable price to enjoy another experience at Wrigley, me and a fellow Cougar decided it would be a great idea to go. Although him and I were the only freshman in this large group of upperclassmen, we had no problems meeting new people and making conversations with them. Despite traffic conditions on the way to the game, it was a breath of fresh air to finally arrive to the gates of Wrigley. I have been to numerous Cubs game since I was a child, but this game was especially unique for a couple of reasons. One, I got to experience my favorite team while making new friends at the same time. The second reason being that the Cubs are an exceptionally talented team this year. I enjoyed the environment of the friendly confines, new friends, a big burger and a thrilling 6-5 Cubs win over Pittsburgh.

With all of these experiences occurring only in the second week of college, I can’t imagine what other experiences are to come my way. I am beginning to find my place here at Saint Xavier rather quickly, and I am not only working hard but enjoying myself. I am eager to go to school every week and this was a great way to kick off my freshman year.

Glow Run 2016

Saint Xavier offers a wide variety of events and activities throughout the year to help get students more socialized with each other. SXU’s Welcome Week was a great kickoff to the school year by having a special activity/event each day of the week.

Some of the events that I had attended was the SXU Foam Party held in the quad, having my picture taken in the SXU photo booth, having henna painted on me in the diner and the opportunity to pet some of the cutest dogs I’ve ever seen in the Student Lounge. All of these activities were extremely fun as well as exciting. Although, for me, the best activity was the Glow Run, where I had a blast!

Check out my Glow Run 2016 video!

The Glow Run is a one-mile run around campus that is filled with not only excitement but anticipation. I had a night class that ended at 8:30 p.m. but that didn’t stop me from attending this event. Walking out of Graham School of Management, across 103rd to the Shannon Center, I signed my name up for the run. At the registration booth, they had given out a bunch of glow sticks that people were using as bracelets, necklaces, and even headbands. They also had body paint that you could use to paint on yourself or even other students. My roommate and I had painted little cougar paws on each other not only because of SXU pride but because, you know … Friendship Goals.

At nine o’clock promptly, all of the students in Glow Run lined up and when the signal was given everyone started to make a bolt for it so they could be the ones to finish first. There were students who were sprinting, jogging and walking toward the finish line. One student was wearing flip flops, tripped, took their shoes off and ran barefoot for the full mile. It was truly something to watch, as he was determined to win at all costs. I, on the other hand, took my time heading toward the finish line and when I got back to my dorm, I ate a giant cookie all by myself. Since I did all of that working out, I felt I deserved a treat!

Overall the event was a ton of fun and something I look forward to every year. This event gets me excited about the Cougar 5K held during homecoming week in October. Until then, I will just be focusing on my school work, friends and my light training for the 5K held here at SXU.

Saint Xavier is a great school that allows students to get excited about school functions since they are indeed exciting.

The Cougar Commission: Week 1

For 16 years, me and my family had driven past Saint Xavier University countless times. Whether it was on my way to grammar school at St. Germane, to Portillo’s, or to church, I was always looking in awe at this university. It wasn’t until Monday, August 22, that I myself turned onto 103rd and Hamlin, not just looking at the university but as part of the university. It was about 7:05 a.m. and The Eagles’ “Hotel California” softly played through the concert surround system of my 2000 Buick LeSabre. I picked a parking spot in Lot 12 and stepped out of the car, taking a deep breath. After grabbing my backpack and locking my doors, my mind raced with questions as I made my way to the main entrance. Will I fit in? Will I find my classes in time? Will I even make any friends? After what seemed to be the longest walk of my life, I finally reached the doors. This is it, I thought to myself. However, this wasn’t just college. It was my college. Blessing myself, I opened the big glass doors and stepped into what will be the center of my life for the next four years to come.

My name is Nicholas Vazquez, I am 18 years old and a freshman here at Saint Xavier University. I live with my mom, dad and two younger brothers on the Southside of Chicago in Merrionette Park. I went to grammar school at St. Germaine, and I am a proud graduate of Saint Rita of Cascia High School in Chicago. I love to read, write, watch sci-fi movies and sports and spend time with my family and friends. However, entering college, I was very skeptical of how things would go for me. I was nervous about how the college atmosphere would treat me. Would it feel good? Will I feel welcomed? Will I succeed? Those were just some of the many questions I would ask myself over the summer. I am only a week into my college experience at Saint Xavier and I can, without a doubt, answer “yes” to all three of those questions.

My first week of classes went much better than anticipated. For one, I feel very comfortable at this university. There is an unexplainable and positive aura here on campus. It feels as if this place is telling me not to worry. It feels as if I am at home. In addition to the calming environment, the professors I’ve met have been very reassuring that they are here for me and the rest of my fellow freshmen. With their doors always open to us and only an email away, they definitely have given me a more positive outlook on being successful inside and outside the classroom. Interestingly enough, my classmates themselves have also made my first week exciting. I have reconnected with familiar faces and made friends with new ones. Everyone I have met so far have been very unique and different in their own ways. I am definitely excited to be with my fellow peers for the next four years. Not only have I met some interesting freshmen but I have also met some very welcoming upperclassmen. From directing me to my correct classes or showing me the places to relax and hangout, it is a very reassuring feeling knowing that the upperclassmen are watching over me and my peers.

Though I am putting all my focus and energy in all of my current classes, I also have not lost sight of my goals and expectations while at Saint Xavier University. Not only do I expect to do well in the classroom, I plan on taking all of the university’s opportunities to become more involved on and off the campus. These opportunities include things such as theatre, various campus ministry roles, and Lord willing, becoming a future FOCUS leader. When it comes to my education, I plan to graduate Saint Xavier University with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. Shortly after that, I plan on training to become a police officer and work in Oak Lawn or the city of Chicago. However, those are only my short-term goals. I aspire to one day join the FBI and take a position in their National Security branch. If there is one thing I’ve taken away from my first week here at Saint Xavier, it is that this school has all the right tools to help me put my best foot forward, and I am very confident that the university will do nothing but give me the best opportunities to succeed in my future.

I am not only drawn to the university from the outside but the inside as well. Saint Xavier has mentioned many times about their dedication and pride in their Core Values. These Core Values are what sit at the heart of the school and are the center of how it operates each and every day. The Core Values of Respect, Excellence, Compassion, Service, Hospitality, Integrity, Diversity, and Learning for Life are what hold the leaders and the student body together. I may have only been here a full week, but I already see these Core Values being expressed by everyone. I have a personal connection with one of these values — Respect. Not only was Respect the name of my freshman orientation group, but I feel that it is a vital Core Value to be practiced on and off the campus. I am a firm believer in respect and everywhere I go, I make it my duty to make sure people of all genders, backgrounds and heritages get the respect they deserve, as I am always ready to stand in the way of those who think otherwise. I look forward to sharing my views of Respect to everyone I encounter at Saint Xavier and am undoubtedly thrilled to witness and express these values not only through the rest of the year, but my whole college career and beyond.

I have nothing but high regards for this school. Saint Xavier honestly could not have done a better job making me feel more positive this first week during my freshman year, and I am eager to see what is in store for the future. They have also made me feel more confident in my abilities as a student and as a young man overall. From my teachers to my peers to me, I can wholeheartedly say that I definitely made the right decision to attend Saint Xavier and have no regrets about my choice. I look forward to studying, working, and enjoying myself here in these next four years. After one full week, I can easily say that my future is bright at this university. After all, this isn’t just college, this is my college.