"Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.” - Blessed John Paul II
Memorial Day brings about that time of year again: graduation parties. This time of year allows us to celebrate and reflect on our achievements and growth. In the weeks that have followed college graduation, I’ve had time to reflect on the entirety of my collegiate experience. I’ve been thankful for all of my time at U of I: the people I met, the places I went, and the things I did. Regardless of what college you call alma mater, and regardless of your major of study, if you take the time to reflect, you will likely see how much you have grown academically, interpersonally, professionally, and spiritually. We’ve all spent the past few years nestled in the comfort of our “college life,” and this experience has led us to become who we are today. And while graduation rightfully celebrates who we’ve become and the culmination of our “college life,” it also brings a certain feeling of uncertainty. A feeling of discomfort? A feeling of loss? A feeling of…well, now what?
Whether we’re headed home, jetting off to a new life in a new city, or starting over on a new campus or in a new program, those of us who have graduated face a great unknown as we, quite literally, begin the rest of our lives (cliché, but true). Regardless of how the Lord worked through you and in you during your collegiate days, you have been prepared for this moment. It is important to face the uncertainty of the future with the hope and confidence inspired by the Spirit and the gifts and graces He has given you.
Understandably, however, it is hard to feel hopeful and confident, especially when you must leave the friends and faith community you grew to love behind. However, it’s important to realize that the same God is always with you. He can be found anywhere, any time, in any city/state/country. No matter where you are going, He will be there waiting for you, ready to welcome you with new friends, new insights, and the same amazing love.
Below, I’ve interviewed a few past graduates who have all experienced the same fears, excitement, and anticipation that many of feel right now. More importantly, they’ve all been successful in continuing their faith journey. I hope that their examples may affirm any readers who are graduated or about to graduate, and may show that you are not alone and with God by your side, great things are still yet to come.
* A special THANK YOU! to the interviewees for their honesty, openness, and wisdom. You are all wonderful and dear friends. :)
"The future starts today, not tomorrow" - Blessed John Paul II
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Name: Brock Perkes
Graduated: University of Illinois - Business Administration, Class of 2009
Current City: San Diego, CA
Current Occupation: GEICO Insurance- Managerial Rotation Program
What has been your experience post-graduation?
Did you leave your home parish? Yes, I moved all the way to CA!
How did you meet other Catholics? I was very lucky that San Diego has one of the best young adult Catholic groups in the nation. I searched online before moving west and tried to find a good parish. As soon as I got here I started going to different events by myself and I started to meet new people.
How did you get involved in a new parish? I joined a Bible study and basically went to every social event they had in
the bulletin! Not all of them were good but it forced me to get out of my apartment and meet other people.
Have you experienced any struggles? If so, how did you overcome them? I am more happy and alive now than I
have ever been in my life.
What has been most rewarding? Meeting new people, growing as a man through life experiences, using my faith that I learned at Newman (St. John's Catholic Newman Center at Illinois) to impact others. I currently lead a weekly Bible study and I created a men's group within our parish. I realized that I was given an opportunity that few people ever receive by living at Newman Hall and I have an understanding of the faith that few people have had the opportunity to receive. I've tried to get involved and share what I've learned and that has been the most rewarding. Everyone is
looking for Christ but they don't know where to look!
What words of advice/wisdom/encouragement would you offer to new graduates? No matter where you live or what you do after college, you will have to meet new people and develop new friends. While it's very important to hold on to the relationships you developed in college, you can't spend all your time talking to them on the phone. You will always have those friendships for the rest of your life but now it's time to look forward and start meeting new people.
Realize that it is going to be hard at first. You probably won't have a thriving parish and you probably won't have a lot of people your age that you can hang out with [...] Go to things by yourself even if you don't know what to expect. If it sucks ... then just leave! I can honestly say that it was tough but I forced myself to meet other people and it worked out.
Realize you've been given a gift and give back. It doesn't matter if nothing is happening in the parish and if there are no young adults anywhere, take that as an opportunity to start something up. You may feel uncomfortable, but it's something you have been trained to create. Nobody ever feels worthy to start something ... but everyone is waiting for someone else to do it. If you build it, they will come.
It takes a while to develop great friendships. Remember how long it took for you to develop your best friendships in college? It didn't happen overnight. It's going to take a year + to start finding some really good friends. For me, it took about 2 years, but it eventually happened because I kept putting myself out there and I keep getting involved.
Don't change who you are to make friends. It's not worth it. Be you and you will find friends that will like you for who you are. You don't want to be someone's friend if it's fake anyways.
Make time for prayer. You probably won't be able to go to daily mass anymore or adoration, that sucks but it's okay. You have to develop a different sort of spirituality outside of college. Put it in your calender to pray for 10 minutes a day and actually do it. Don't do it at night but make sure it gets done. If this slips then everything else will crumble.
Find things your passionate about and live your life. Search for things in your area that you've always wanted to do. I play softball every week, I recently took a hiking course and I'm going to be taking sailing lessons in two weeks. Use the internet to find things and use www.meetup.com
Make sure you go on a yearly retreat. Find something and make sure you do it.
DO NOT look back at who you were. Look forward. Always remember how important the faith is to you and always remember what it was like to first believe. You are not who you were, you are you, right now.
DON'T BELIEVE THE CRAP THAT COLLEGE IS THE BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE. Your life isn't over because you graduated college, it's only just beginning. I've really enjoyed myself after college and so will you if you keep an open mind and try something new. Live your life to the fullest.
Name: Anna Green
Graduated: University of Illinois- French Studies, German, Music, Class of 2008; Illinois State University- K-12 Teaching Endorsement (French, German), 9-12 Teaching Endorsement (Music), Class of 2011
Current City: St. Louis, MO
Current Occupation: Flight Director at the Challenger Learning Center; Star Guide at James. S. McDonnell Planetarium at the Saint Louis Science CenterWhat has been your experience post-graduation? I am living at home with my parents to save money while I attend grad school to earn my Masters in Museum Studies from the Johns Hopkins University.
Did you move away from your home parish? I moved away from my home parish when I started college so
[St. John's] became my "parish." I don't really have a parish here as I do not feel comfortable at any of them so I bounce from church to church based on what mass time suits my needs.
How did you meet other Catholics? I started going to a group called Crossroads which was for young adults in their 20's and 30's in my county. We meet for some short bible study or discussion of Catechism and then we have dinner and socialize.
How did you get involved in a new parish? Sadly I'm not really. I've been helping out at a local Newman center near my house but I am much older than most of the students so I feel out of place.
Have you experienced struggles? If so , how have you overcome them? I am struggling with my prayer and faith life, though not nearly to the extent I was when I first left the comfort of SJCNC last year. I have a few Catholic friends here and I've tried to get spiritual direction (but the parish priests aren't very open to it). I try to make sure I don't give up though just because I am struggling. I still go to Mass. When there is a holy hour offered or adoration and confession I go. I pray every day. My K-Bible and Rosary stay by my bedside. And I know God hears me because I can see him working in my friends and in my life and my work. That is what helps me through the struggle of losing the "Catholic Disneyland" that I was so privileged to have.
What has been most rewarding? Through the struggles I have experienced and are experiencing, I do see myself becoming a stronger person and hopefully a stronger woman of God. I have come to know just how blessed I am in this time. God lead me to the path I should take and I think I'm finally listening.
What words of advice/wisdom/encouragement would you offer to new graduates? Even if you are struggling, feel lost, or cannot feel God, I assure you He is there holding you. The times of struggle help us to see things more clearly in the end sometimes I think. They also help us grow closer to Him. When I am struggling in my prayer life, I often ask Mama Mary to intercede on my behalf to her Son to help us grow closer and to stay with me and give me wisdom. I also try to remember her words, "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word." In other words, I often ask God to show me his will, help me accept it and to be the Beautiful Daughter of God he wants me to be. I would recommend trying these things and also I find the intercession of the Saints quite helpful as well. I also suggest trying to find God in what you are doing every day. Try to see what He is doing for you in your work... It's always kind of nice when you recognize that he's there. Lastly, just because you leave campus does not mean you cannot stay in touch with your friends OR the holy men and women there! The priests and nuns have email addresses and some have Facebook accounts, and I'm sure they'd love you to drop them a line from time to time! You are NEVER alone in your endeavors. We are all in communion every time we stand before the Blessed Sacrament. =)
Name: Ned Zerwic
Graduated: University of Illinois-Kinesiology, Class of 2011
Current City: Chicago, IL
Current Occupation: Physical Therapy Student at University of Illinois-Chicago
What has been your post-graduation experience? Grad School, living in an apartment on campus for the first time
How did you meet other Catholics? How did you get involved in a new parish? Well, at UIC I checked out the John Paul II Newman Center. I also literally googled "Catholic Churches in Chicago" to find the closest parishes to my apartment. I've gone to a few different parishes on Sundays, trying to get the "parish feeling" while still living on campus. Getting involved at the UIC Newman Center really helped meet other Catholics. A lot of parishes also have young adult groups. If you do land near another Newman Center, walk into it knowing that it just won't be the same as [your college's] [...] I walked into the UIC Newman Center and was a little dissapointed because I was comparing it to St. John's. But the truth of the matter is it is still the same Christ in the Eucharist, so size and aesthetic beauty shouldn't have been my primary focus. And there actually are a ton of fantastic Catholics here too.
Have you experienced struggles? If so, how have you overcome them? Adjusting to life away from St. John's was hard at first, I realized that my faith was no longer going to be convenient and surrounded by great Catholics all the time. If I wanted to go to daily Mass, I had to make time for it, catch a bus, orient my schedule around. And while that's been a bugger, it also lead to a greater desire to go to Mass, receive the Eucharist, or adore Him. It quickly became something that was no longer routine, but something I had to want to make it happen. The struggles will come, especially in adjusting to several changes. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a regular prayer life, taking time every day to be still, to try to quiet yourself and just be with God in prayer. It. will. do. wonders. And for those of you going onward to more schooling, I strongly recommend praying to St. Joseph of Cupertino, the patron saint of test-takers. There is a prayer to him that I say before every test. The man, the saint intercedes so well, it would be foolish not to ask him for help.
What has been most rewarding? I had been trying to go to Adoration a few times and was unsuccessful. On another occasion, I woke up early and caught a bus to fit in some time in Adoration, which was listed on the Newman Center website as 8:30-9:30 AM on Fridays. I needed this badly. It was in my first or second week of grad school and not really adjusting too well to a new (and harder) program, new campus, new apartment (for the first time), and missing my sister who has been in NY in discernment with the Sisters of Life. I had so much on my heart, and I needed the strength that comes from God alone. I walk into the chapel only to see it empty - no Adoration, no monstrance, no Eucharist. I was heart broken, so upset I came close to crying. So why did I share this sad story? Because it shows I had started to develop a great love for Adoration, a great desire to see Jesus, spill my heart before Him or just 'be still and know that He is God'. That dependence on Him, that deep longing for Jesus, is what has been most rewarding about my first foray into the faith life outside of St. John's. Let yourself become dependent on Him.
What words of advice/wisdom/encouragement would you offer new graduates? It's probably not going to be easy or comfortable, several big changes coming soon. Just know that "the world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness." — Pope Benedict XVI
"Do not fear what may happen tomorrow, the same loving Father who cares for you today, will care for you tomorrow and everyday. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings." - St. Frances de Sales
"Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer" ~ Romans 12:12