By Fran Lavelle
Looks like you made it! Congratulations on a job well done. Many of you will be off to college or community college in the fall. The next few months will be filled with a whirlwind of preparation between orientation to dorm shopping (yes, guys do this too). For our college-bound graduates, you are joining the most studied demographic in the U.S. Social scientists and student affairs personnel make careers out of studying who you are, what makes you successful, and how colleges and universities can best serve you. Over the past decade the trends in higher education have been greatly influenced by these studies. Everything from Service Learning Communities to farmto-table options at the cafeteria have emerged based on what students expect to experience in college.
The excitement builds as move-in day gets closer and closer. Will you go through rush and join a fraternity or sorority? Do you already know your roommate? Are you going to join any clubs or campus organizations? There’s so much to think of: class schedules, getting to know your way around campus, understanding the shuttle routes, finding the cool coffee shops and places to shop to name a few. It’s easy to see in a world that quickly becomes filled with things that are so unfamiliar it is easy to forget the things that are very familiar. One important familiar part of your life that you need to stay connected with is your faith. Study after study affirms two things 1) an estimated 60-percent of college students are not affiliated with their faith tradition or any faith tradition while in school; and 2) students who do stay affiliated with their faith tradition or a faith tradition in college do better academically and have higher graduation rates. Now, I am not trying to tell you that just by going to Mass will guarantee that you will be academically successful in college. What I am saying is that staying involved with the Church and nurturing your spiritual life helps, a lot! I spent quite a few years in campus ministry. I saw a very diverse group of young people pass through the Church doors in my tenure. It is from that wisdom that I offer my top five helpful tips for staying Catholic in college.
1) If you do not already have a practicing Catholic friend at your school, make friends with a Catholic in your dorm to go to Mass with. This sounds obvious, but many young people are intimidated to attend Mass alone. You don’t have to make an evening of it, but simply having someone to go to Mass with makes going a lot easier.
2) You do not have to be 24/7 over the top Catholic (insert jazz hands) to be involved with campus ministry. Think of your college experience in the same way you see your parents witness faith. As adults, your parents go to Mass on Sunday. Your Mom may be a member of a book club or serve on pastoral council. Your Dad might be a member of the Knights of Columbus or work at the food pantry. By no means do your parents attend every meeting or participate in every activity. They choose the activities that are life-giving and spiritually fulfilling. Do the same. Make an effort to be part of the life of campus ministry but recognize you do not have to “do it all.”
3) Kick peer pressure to the curb. Look, I get it, we all want to be liked and accepted. But please do not lose your sense of self or self-worth in your quest for peer acceptance. I remember it feeling like a tribal battle cry, “Come on Franny, it will be fun!” And with those six little words I ended up in situations that I dare say were not my finest moments. You will find as you age that the opinion of those who encouraged you to make unhealthy choices no longer really matter. In fairness, my girlfriends from high school and college who chanted the “fun” refrain did not lead me to abandon my moral convictions. But, my GPA did suffer from not enough study time and too much social time.
4) Pray daily. Learn to be still. Learn to listen. God is not Santa Claus nor is he a vending machine. Grow in your prayer life that you are in tune with God’s will for you, not the other way around.
5) You are a Confirmed adult in your faith, but it does not mean you know everything. Ask questions. Read. Take ownership of your faith journey.
I have one word for the parents of these bright and beautiful young people: relax. Your job as a parent really never ends, but trust that you have given your son/daughter the two things necessary for a successful life: roots, that they may always know where they came from; and wings to fly. Let them fly.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)