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Grad at Grad: Juliette '18

Hi, my name is Juliette and I may look like a freshman, but I’m a senior. For those of you who don’t know me, I came to Loyola as a junior transfer student from Montreal, Canada. (You’ll probably notice the accent.) I’m here today to share my experiences of becoming committed to doing justice, or how I’ve learned what that means and how to be committed to doing justice in my life. My experience started before moving to New York City, although Loyola has had a big role to play in my growth. I’ve always been an empathetic person, someone with others in mind, who wants to help others, even in the smallest ways. I used to go to a school where there weren’t that many formal opportunities to do so, but there was a service trip to Nicaragua. I knew I wanted to go, but my sister kept telling me over and over again that on a trip like that we weren’t doing anything and that we were pretty much useless. I didn’t listen to her (although I in some ways I believed her) and went on the trip anyway. It was a hard trip. I cried everyday while we were there and for two weeks when I came back. Sometimes I cried because it was some of the most amazing ten days of my life, but sometimes because I had never seen poverty like that and it was really hard to witness this other reality. I had seen kids who never get to eat, so they would run to us with the biggest smiles on their faces for a tiny portion of food, something I eat at least ten times in a day. Or children who don’t go to school and beg on the street instead. But also kids who are eager to learn and scream out of happiness because they get to do math. Or kind people who would miss whatever they’re usually doing on a regular day to come help some strangers build a garden. I cried because I was shocked and I cried because I had so much to learn from the people I met, but so little time. It was a great experience and when I looked for schools in New York I hoped I would get a chance to do service more often, without having to travel to another continent. I started going to Loyola two months after coming back from Nicaragua and it was really hard. As some of you know, I was going to leave for senior year. My mind was set on going back home. But I decided to stay, and it’s one of, if not the best decision I’ve made in my life. I stayed because I knew I was going to regret leaving. I was going to miss my friends and there were things I could’ve done but hadn’t done in junior year. Over the past two years here, but especially this year, when I decided to say “yes” to a lot more things and to be more open-minded, my dedication as well as understanding of being committed to doing justice changed a lot. This year, I decided to go the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. It was an amazing weekend. I got to see hundreds of other students from all over the country who are passionate about issues like me and I got to hear from leaders who are doing incredible things and are truly affecting their communities. It was at the Teach-In that I truly understood what it meant to go to a Jesuit school, and how it played a role in my growth towards being committed to doing justice. That weekend, I began to see the connection between God and the work for justice, and how you
can’t talk about one without mentioning the other. But even if I met all of those inspiring individuals and felt God with me, I remember leaving D.C. feeling powerless and hopeless. I learned a lot about everything that people are doing, but also about everything that’s wrong in this world and needs to be fixed, and that just overwhelmed me. I left D.C seeing a big mountain in front of me, thinking “How are we ever going to climb it? No matter how much and what people do, it’s just impossible”. But I wasn’t alone that weekend, and the people from this school who were there with me reminded me, and still remind me, that we can climb it. Some people had ideas, but I didn’t know what to do when I came back. All I knew was that I wanted to do something. An easy thing was to say yes to service trips, so that’s what I did. I went to Camden in February and it was another amazing weekend. In Camden, I started off the weekend with the same feeling I had leaving the Teach-In. But this time I actually met people. I didn’t just hear from them, I talked to them: leaders from the Romero Center, chefs and volunteers from Cathedral Kitchen, people at Urban Promises, and even more. They all had something in common: they took action, instead of standing there doing nothing. All in their own different ways, they are trying to make Camden a better place. Some of them do so through charity, by giving homeless people a meal. Some of them do so through justice, by teaching young people how to cook, so they can get a job serving the hungry and at the same time escape the cycle of poverty they are stuck in, or by giving children and young adults programs that challenge them and help them realize their full potential. I was really inspired by everyone I met, and by the way they not only give food and time to people, but also look at the causes of the problems and try to find a solution, so that we don’t need soup kitchens or relief programs anymore. They all showed me that it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible to make a change, as little as it is. Because as little as they are, it’s those little steps that we need to climb the mountain that is injustice in front of us. After Camden, I decided to say yes to West Virginia. There I discovered a new reality, one that you don’t see in New York: isolation, unemployment, job and food desert, rural poverty. In West Virginia I got to build a porch and a ramp, so that a family’s dad could come back home from the hospital. I met caring and kind persons. They lived removed from society, with no way of getting out of the circle of poverty they were stuck in, just like people in Camden. I left knowing we didn’t change the world once again. We didn’t work to bring justice to West Virginia, we brought charity. We didn’t find a way to solve what causes poverty and hunger, we just brought relief, so that at least they wouldn’t have to worry about bringing home their husband or father. But after seeing this reality, meeting people and creating relationships for an entire week with those who are affected by all this, you really can’t come home and forget what you saw and experienced. Just like other service trips, it gave me more hope and more energy to look at issues around me, closer to home, and try to look at the roots of the problems and see what’s wrong. My sister had it wrong in the beginning. No, I didn’t change Nicaragua; no, I didn’t change New York City; no, I didn’t change Camden; and no, I didn’t change West Virginia. But they changed me. Working at soup kitchens, tutoring after school with children from low income families, and service trips made me grow and learn. That’s just as important, and I may not have changed the
world, but I may have, or maybe will in the future, change someone’s world along the way. I think those are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned this year. Another one I learned is that both charity and justice are needed. Service trips aren’t useless. Yes, issues need to be addressed at their roots: What’s causing them? Where has society failed? What needs to be changed and how? But charity, like soup kitchens and building ramps, is necessary as well. If we are to be men and women for others, we need to go to people, the poor, the marginalized, and walk with them. Something else I learned is that, no matter how hopeless and powerless we feel, we need to get over that feeling and do something. These feelings can be paralyzing. Seeing the huge mountain still waiting to be climbed decades after movements such as the civil rights one took place, can be paralyzing. Our faith tells us that words are meaningless without actions and it is one thing to care about something, and another one to take action. And one last thing I’ve learned, something I find truly powerful, is that we’re not alone. There’s so much work left to do, but in the past few months, I’ve realized that there are so many people in this community, in this country, in this world willing to fight if they are not already doing so. Maybe I wasn’t using the right pronoun earlier. I will not change the world, but we certainly can. And if that’s not one of the most motivating and inspiring things, I don’t know what is.