October President’s Pen: Bursting bubbles and changing the world

Increasingly, we are all living in our own bubbles. You would think that, with the advent of the internet, our individual worlds would expand and interconnect.  On one level, I guess they have… how many Facebook friends or LinkedIn contacts do you have?  Yet, how many do you really know beyond a passing acquaintance?  With more choices at our fingertips, we have less time to digest it all.  We end up either paying cursory attention to much of what is available or being more selective in what and who we engage, or both.  By necessity, we focus our limited time on information and people most relevant to our interests.  Unfortunately, in doing so, we unwittingly risk finding ourselves in self-made echo chambers, losing a fuller perspective of opinion and objectivity.  In its own way, Cristo Rey St. Martin acts as an antidote for this new type of isolation.

Consider the annual “Discover Cares” event held last week by their Legal Department.  Each year for the past few years, Discover invites our junior class to participate side-by-side with their employees in community service.  Coordinating with our school schedule so that the joint day falls on one of our teachers’ Professional Development Days when there are no academic classes, Discover brings one hundred of our students down to their Riverwoods headquarters.

In the last couple years, the event has evolved from a ½ day service project to a full-day that includes both service opportunities and professional workshops.  This year, students and Discover employees split into groups for a morning mock trial competition, arguing the Supreme Court case of Illinois vs. Wardlow – a seminal case about illegal search and the limits of the 4th Amendment .  After lunch various mixed groups assembled bicycles, created care packages and packed “sweet cases” for foster children through a great non-profit called “Together We Rise.”

At CRSM, our mission is three-fold: supporting our students to-and-through college, exposing them to the professional world of work, and encouraging them to become persons of faith who are committed to justice.  It is difficult to imagine a more comprehensive example of our mission than this single day.

The exclusively human endeavor of forming and presenting an argument – by the way, in true mock trial tradition, no one could choose what side to argue – done in the context of our U.S. legal system, provided a stimulating academic and civic experience for both our students and the participating Discover employees.  What’s more, they were doing it together as adult teammates and colleagues; an opportunity too few of our country’s youth are exposed to during high school.

Think, too, of the influence Discover is having on our young people who see a major corporation allowing their employees to take off work for a day and commit themselves to thinking and acting on behalf of the greater community – focusing their efforts on a subset of our society in real need.  There is something beautiful and inclusive when people gather, not for themselves, but for the sole purpose of helping others.  At CRSM, we encourage one another to be “persons for others” but the message becomes much more persuasive coming from outside our school community.

Despite widespread, and very often well-deserved, criticism of unchecked Capitalism and the widening rift between rich and poor; CRSM’s experience with “Corporate America” through the Corporate Work Study Program continues to stand in contrast to easy stereotypes.  Like Discover, many of the corporations where CRSM students work demonstrate exceptional social responsibility.  In order to remain competitive and to attract and retain the best employees, high-performing companies realize that it serves both their self-interest and society’s interests to behave in an ethical manner, to value and embody diversity, and to nurture a collective mindset of civic responsibility inside their organizations.  Seeing our students working with companies that internalize such admirable principles, gives one great hope for the future.  Even as our political system seems so divided and stalled, corporate America (of all places) is leading the way, picking up the banner of social justice and running with it.

“Discover Cares” has truly become a day for our students to discover that CRSM’s mission is something that spills over into the real-world… that what we preach AND what we practice are values good people from many different backgrounds, races, religions, cultures and lifestyles share and appreciate.

Genuine encounter, accompaniment, service to others, generosity, selflessness, justice, equanimity, equality, moral and ethical behavior, and a sense of community all have relevance in every part of our lives.  Whether at work, school, home, or in our public activities we can make a difference and we can engage with others who want to make a difference, too – despite our differences.

Cristo Rey St. Martin resides at the center of this nexus between school, work, society, and home.  It’s a magical combination of forces and people that, together, are breaking down what divides us, bursting our bubbles, and changing the world.

Viva, Cristo Rey!