As seniors, everyone kept telling us how exciting it is to go out into the world. When people said that to me, I wondered, “Are we looking at the same thing?”
So when we were sent away from campus and into the world a bit earlier than anticipated, I resisted. I remained in Bryn Mawr, thinking that the close proximity to campus would mean that my second semester senior year would look the same. That, and I would receive all of the luxuries of off-campus student housing and the lovely weather Pennsylvania has to offer in March. But, as days passed and students went home, standing outside of an empty church and vacant dorms only served as a reminder that this is a campus whose beauty is worthy of its students.
Soon after, I returned home late at night to a nearly vacant airport in Denver, Colorado. As I stood on a moving sidewalk, a man who appeared to be in his fifties moved towards me as he went in the opposite direction. As we passed one another, he looked at my Villanova sweatshirt, and his face lit up. He pointed to his Villanova hat and yelled, “Go Cats!” to the near-empty terminal.
I had been trying to figure out for a while what makes seeing people with Villanova gear in public places so exciting — so much so, that this man would take a step backwards on a moving sidewalk — but as I thought about him and the experiences his hat told me we shared, I understood. We occupied the same spaces, we celebrated the same victories, and in some way, while we both arrived in Denver, we each call Villanova home.
At some point or another, we begin to see this place as our home and these people as our family. Perhaps it was the day an Orientation Counselor brought your mini fridge to the fifth floor of Stanford. Maybe it was even before that, when you watched the 2016 championship, and cheered alongside a student body you did not yet know. Maybe it was two years later, as you ran into the quad celebrating a championship, yet again. Perhaps you met a professor, whose insight and care for you as a person, changed your understanding of the world and your role in it. Maybe it was at the Oreo on a sunny day. For me, I was reminded of this home in a deserted airport in Denver, Colorado.
Villanova is not a jersey we retire when we leave campus. It is this community we have formed based on shared experiences, the people we will always cheer with and cheer for, and our ability to look at someone who was once a stranger and to see family.
Beyond the many privileges these Villanova degrees afford us, our greatest gift here may be a heightened sense of awareness of our inherently connected nature. As Villanovans, our responsibility to promote this awareness extends beyond the bounds of our campus.
A professor once told me that the social ills we witness in our world are just symptoms of a greater disease — a crisis of kinship. As Mother Theresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Often, we find ourselves separate from one another, forgetting the many ways in which we are the same, and in which each of us deserves dignity. We build walls and create labels, suggesting that we differ in our degrees of humanity; implying that in this world, there is an “us” and a “them.” When looking at our role beyond Villanova, it must involve going into the world and showing it what community feels like — what it means to be seen, to be known, and to be part of one family. This is the only cure.
We are undergoing a period where community and caring for the people we love looks really different. What was once shared through warm embraces, glances across classrooms, and dance marathons, we now communicate over Zoom calls, GroupMes, FaceTimes, and yoga classes alone, but together online. We are all experiencing heartbreak, for different reasons and to different degrees. The connections we have cannot be fortified by this beautiful shared, physical space. Time we anticipated we had with one another was cut short. One day, we will be together again. But we know that, in some way, the people we embrace will be different than those who left campus in March.
As I came back to Villanova in April to move out, I once again walked across the deserted campus. The church bells still toll, and the trees are now in blossom. The Oreo is quiet. But here, I see the presence of our community. If campus were teeming with students, it would not be Villanova — because as Villanovans, we have always been called to serve a greater good. No class has been asked to uphold that responsibility more than ours.
Community was never this gathering of buildings. Our experience as Villanovans did not end on March 13th. Because as long as we allow ourselves to look at the people we meet and to recognize the human experiences we share — to create community wherever we go, however far apart we may be — we remain Villanovans.
We will be together again, at some point, at this place we have come to call home. But we always were together. Even when we didn’t know each other — even without the shared time and space we had with one another — we were never strangers, just people who forgot that we belong to one another. Villanova helped us remember.
So when we walk past people in this big and sometimes scary world we are entering into, our job is to look up at them as we pass by — whether they are in Villanova gear or not — and to see our shared experiences; to greet them with joy; to make them feel as though they are coming home. To remember that, in this big and scary world, none of us are really strangers.
Thank you, Class of 2020. You are my home.