Yesterday I gushed about the city of Chicago and how much I loved my time in the Midwest. Yet amidst writing about the paintings at the Art Institute and my exploration of Millennium Park, I failed to mention any details about the reason I was in the city in the first place.
As a student leader at Georgetown, I was invited earlier this spring to be a university delegate at the National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference. Started in 1997 at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, the conference invites students from the nation’s 28 Jesuit institutions in an effort to promote student leadership at each school. Originally the conference focused on improving leadership in student government, but it has since grown to welcome leaders from across university communities.
When it first met at Regis 14 years ago, the NJSLC declared its mission “to develop ideas, explore student issues, and build stronger leadership skills to better serve their colleges and universities in the Jesuit tradition.” Since that time, student leaders from across the nation have met annually to network and collaborate with others.
Despite the conference’s history and my enrollment at a Jesuit university, I had never heard of the NJSLC until I received my invitation to attend. Leading up to the conference, I spent time researching its history and anxiously looking forward to interacting with students who share similar passions. Over the years, fourteen different Jesuit universities have played host to the conference, including Xavier, Gonzaga, Marquette, Creighton and Fordham University. Although Georgetown’s location in the nation’s capital and its spacious campus would make it an ideal site, the university has never won a bid to host the five-day event.
Arriving on the Loyola University of Chicago campus in Rogers Park I felt immediately welcomed. At the registration site, I greeted dozens of smiling and enthusiastic Loyola Ramblers who were eager to see the program begin. Though many of the Georgetown delegates traveled separately to the conference, we met together for the Welcome Banquet in the first of many events to come.
In spite of Georgetown’s strong affiliation to the political relations in Washington, D.C it was ironic that none of the delegates representing at the conference were members of student government. Instead, leaders represented Georgetown from Campus Ministry, Residence Life, the Philodemic Debate Society, student media and orientation programming. With such a diverse group representing the Hilltop, the Georgetown delegation offered unique perspectives on leadership outside of student government.
In bringing together leaders from across the nation, the NJSLC provided an outlet for students to learn what others are doing and how to transpose new ideas back on their own campuses. During the five-day conference, there were a series of leadership sessions devoted to a range of topics, including Career Exploration in Student Affairs, Work-place Professionalism, How to Embrace your Inner Superhero, Karate Chopping to your Goals and Socially Responsible Investment. While I enjoyed some workshops better than others, my peers never ceased to amaze me. Student leaders led many of these sessions, exhibiting such great professionalism and poise that would make even some of today’s most recognizable leaders take notice.
As I spent time talking with other students who were passionate about community service and student involvement, I found myself in awe of my generation. Often it seems my peers and I fall handicapped to the negative stereotypes perpetuated by the media and earlier generations. Sheltered, short attention span, over-reliant, poor work ethic and idealistic are just a few of the many stereotypes and behaviors attributed to today’s millennials. Yet, as I listened to my peers, I realized the falsity of such claims.
Today’s group of college students came of age during some of the nation’s lowest points. Witnesses to 9/11, we watched a nation struck by tragedy while simultaneously learning the true meaning of patriotism. We witnessed global devastation with the 2004 tsunami, the floods in Haiti, the earthquakes in Japan and Hurricane Katrina. We were victims of the 2008 economic crisis that rattled America and we continue to monitor its aftershocks. Even if there are some who might criticize today’s millenials as self-absorbed and apathetic, the tragedies and difficulties of our time have motivated us all to create a brighter future.
In our roles as student presidents, orientation coordinators, Eucharist ministers and mentors we are training ourselves to be the nation’s, and even the world’s, next great leaders. Admittedly we might rely too much on the Internet and our Blackberrys, but we are using such tools to forge the path for a better tomorrow. Much of this comes from our commitment to community engagement and collaboration. In an article for Business Insider published last month, Michael Hais, co-author of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics, describes what marks today’s millenials as unique. “Other generations were reared to be more individualistic. This civic generation has a willingness to put aside some of their own personal advancement to improve society.”
Through my time at the NJSLC I realized how right Mr. Hais is with his reflections. The delegates at the conference demonstrated the current generation’s commitment to improving their campus and the greater community. I am proud to say that I am a millennial and that such astounding company surrounds me. In the words of St. Ignatius, we have can together to “go forth and set the world on fire!”