The following speech was delivered by Matthew Markham (’11) to the Loyola community at morning assembly on Monday, January 10, 2011. “A Loyola student is becoming more committed to doing justice.”
Upon stepping off the plane onto the little island we all know as Manhattan two years ago, I knew there was a long but rewarding journey ahead. I had heard the "ooooh's" and "aaaah's" from my friends back in the UK when I told them that I was going to a “Jesuit” school in the big city, but I was a little unsure about what this really meant. Well, the first thing that I was surprised with was what my school called "Grad-at-Grad" qualities; I was expected to possess these five seemingly superhuman qualities in a shortened two year span at Loyola. From the start it seemed like I was behind the curve, as all of my peers had already had an extra two years of training in each of these fields. Jesuits seemed like superhero beings that were unflawed and had utility belts readily equipped with each quality that I felt that I lacked. I like to think that since that time I have come quite a long way. When I was asked to reflect on "Committed to Doing Justice" I nearly knocked Ms. Baber backwards and here's why; this journey has been one of the most important of my life and one that I want to share in order to show that anyone can achieve his or her own personal Grad-at-Grad qualities.
Here's how my journey started; the Grad-at-Grad guideline notes that a graduate is someone who "is beginning to understand the structural roots of injustice in social institutions, attitudes and customs." My father had always chastised me for never being willing to go outside of my comfort zone and volunteer with him at a soup kitchen or a charity that would help those who were in need, and he encouraged me to find the roots of social injustice. The main reason I didn't do this and had little desire to do so was because hardly any of my English friends were doing this at the time; in short, I thought it was "uncool" and then even at the end of the day there would always be poverty so it seemed fruitless. The social attitude that surrounded me seemed to be "it's not our problem" or "it still won't make a difference." This attitude astounds me today but at the time it seemed to be the normality and so I assimilated. It's ironic that I ignored this view, because at around the same time I was volunteering at an animal shelter and would walk
the dogs for free with a smile on my face. My views on helping fellow human beings, however, seemed to be less optimistic, or for lack of a better word, I was ignorant. There was something less appealing about helping feed the hungry rather than throwing 'Kong' toys for puppies. My father, however, would consistently call on me to understand the roots of injustice and support those less fortunate, but I thought at the time: "why do I have to do it when no-one else is, why put this responsibility on me?" The gears in my head began to turn, however, and I began to consider it possible that maybe there was another form of reward in helping fellow people: perhaps an uplifting of the mind.
I have come to realize in my time at Loyola that we are called to have a little of what Mr. Donacik once described as an "anti-establishment" attitude. He didn't mean this in the sense of anarchy or violence against the government but in the sense of recognizing injustices that are seemingly "ok'd" by the powers-that-be. We have poverty, we have corruption, and we have injustice. It is our duty not only as members of the human race, but particularly as Christian people, that we must not only recognize the roots of these injustices but actively work to fight against them; essentially, we must join the "Justice League of Jesuits" and put into practice a tool in our own utility belts.
When I transferred into Loyola I quickly came to the conclusion that it was no longer permissible to be the quiet student at the back of the classroom throwing paper airplanes at my peers, and generally taking the path of least resistance. At Loyola, I was noticed. My first thoughts of the impossibility of being the perfect Christian or Jesuit sprung to my mind throughout most of my first semester junior year and I felt just as someone had adequately described me: "a lost British puppy." I had always been considered a veteran at my old school of seven years and this call to be a new person seemed like a tall order. In fact, it felt like an impossible order at the time and it seemed as if I was lost. I needed a place to get a footing and so I began my journey at a placement that many of you may be familiar with; Mary Manning Walsh. I wasn't exactly thrilled to be working in an elderly retirement home and Sr. Michael Mary was terrifying at the time but I wanted to keep as open a mind as possible. I set a goal of
completing my hours as quickly as I could and I often would go to my placement in large chunks of hours hoping to sprint to the finish of service, but not realizing that service was a marathon not a sprint event.
I wish I had a less clichĂŠ way to describe what happened next, but it appeared as a type of epiphany. I had a powerful conversation with a resident named David. I first saw David when I was walking casually down the seventh floor hall way assisting a resident to her place in the dining hall. I sat her down and out of the corner of my eye I saw a man with wispy white hair and a sprinkling of grey stubble about his chin, steadily chomping at a Caesar salad; he looked similar to Morrie Schwartz, a famous Sociology professor who taught lessons on social injustice among other things. He saw me looking and called me over to sit with him; I looked around to make sure he was talking to me, and he reinforced his gesture with a grand wave of his arms. I sat down next to David and I noticed why he had trouble eating his salad; he only had about five teeth, and so I thought I would be spending the next five minutes assisting a less fortunate resident slice and reduce his meal for his consumption, which wasn't all that appealing. What followed was, in summary, an in-depth discussion of the history of England during the Tudor period with a focus on the common class and their conflicts within their socioeconomic status. I had stumbled upon a Ph.D. who had taught as a professor in Oxford, England. This conversation lasted for about an hour and my view of service was turned on its head. I realized I was helping people who were just like me and in many ways far more educated and wiser, in areas that I would have to study for years to match. With this one conversation I began to see the value in my work, and the hours were no longer chores, but opportunities to better know those who were facing adversity in their old age . Our culture often rejects the elderly because they no longer function that well in our society which sees them as almost obsolete, but yet they have so much to offer. The words of Morrie Schwartz come to mind when I think of this and how true it is that if a culture doesn't work we shouldn't "buy into it." David represented only one part of our culture that was treated with injustice and thrown into the corner, there were so many others in need of help. One thing I have come to realize that the greatest form of help is not money that is
filtered through charities and only reaches those who need it in a fraction of its original form. The best help is time, and that's what I strived to give.
In my senior year at Loyola I snapped out of my "lost puppy" look and I realized that now was the time to step up as a leader. I had completed my time as a junior at Mary Manning Walsh and that service had turned from a chore into an enjoyable duty. But it felt like I still wasn't doing enough as someone who was supposed to be a leader in this area. I decided to try out another value of a grad-at-grad of being someone who has begun to reflect on social justice implications of future careers and I began to contemplate my own future. Because of my talk with David I had another example of why I wanted to enter the medical profession- to help people like him. I put a productive foot forward and applied and achieved a position as an organizer of a teen organization against cancer, called 'ATAC' (All Teens Against Cancer). Things seemed to be sliding into place and I was working my way towards earning my "Committed to Doing Justice" quality in my Jesuit utility belt. My view of helping fellow people as "not my job," had been changed to the point that I want to make a career out of doing the exact opposite. I want to be a doctor, Ms. Meyers willing.
Throughout my career at Loyola I continued to surprise myself and although I didn't think this would take much effort, I began to change from the student throwing paper airplanes in the back seats to someone integrating the Grad-at-Grad qualities into my everyday life. The integration was surprising because once I had begun to focus on being "Committed to Doing Justice" I found that other qualities of being a Grad-at-Grad seemed to flow from my commitment to just one of them. I found that in my service for Mary Manning Walsh I could seek a deeper connection with God and become "religious" in a personal way. In my work at the American Cancer Society with ATAC I became more open working with cancer patients. Also with my extracurricular activities in senior year I have become able to be more loving and academically excellent outside of the class room. My journey at Loyola has shown me that anyone, not just Jesuit superheroes, are able to achieve his or her own personal goals of
achieving the Grad-at-Grad qualities, and that these goals are possible with enough commitment to doing justice.