I learned in my sophomore year Chemistry class that a catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction. The catalyst itself does not undergo any change, but without it, some reactions would never take place. This idea is easy to prove and understand if you spend a little bit of time in a lab with the right reactants.
When you change the context of this concept, I think it can be a little bit harder to grasp. Apart from its scientific definition, a catalyst can also be a person, event, or even a good book or movie. As I look back on my (almost) four years at Holy Cross, I realize that in many ways, CBL was my catalyst. While fundamentally the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning has remained the same, it initiated a transformation within me that might not have happened otherwise.
My first year at Holy Cross I was placed in Professor Ryan’s Montserrat class “Exploring Differences.” For the first few months of school, the mandatory CBL component of this class was one of my least-favorite parts of college. Up until that point in my life, I was a creature of habit and comfort zones. I could not handle that someone was asking me to change this part of my personality on top of all the adapting I already had to do that year, so I was very disengaged from the CBL experience and the idea of immersing myself into the community. However, after many conversations with Professor Ryan and CBL reflection sessions, this began to change. In the end, my weekly trips to CBL and my time in Professor Ryan’s class gave me the tools to find comfort in uncomfortable situations. More importantly, they provided the foundation I needed to be able to recognize the many injustices within our world and the courage to use what I learn in the classroom to respond to them.
Sophomore year I gained a new perspective when I became an intern in the CBL office. I facilitated reflection sessions instead of listening to them, and I became a mentor for certain CBL students who struggled in a similar way to how I did as a first-year student. Since I was no longer in a class that included CBL, I had a more independent role in my own experience at my site and in determining my takeaways from that year. My first and second years of CBL ultimately prepared me for the most difficult, yet most rewarding year of college: my year abroad. I felt ready to spend a year in Spain as a result of the awareness I had gained from CBL. By this I mean awareness not only of myself, but also of others and our surroundings.
While at Holy Cross I have focused my studies on Spanish and Pre-Med. As a Spanish major, I have learned how to effectively communicate in another language, allowing me to engage with people whose histories, traditions and ways of thinking are different than my own. Going abroad gave me the opportunity to experience people and places that are far from home. Taking Pre-Med courses has taught me the scientific knowledge I will need in pursuing a health profession. Throughout my time at Holy Cross, CBL has reminded me not to lose sight of the importance of respect for human life and dignity while engaging in my studies. As I move forward in life I will always carry this reminder with me.
Sometimes you do not realize the value of a story until you reach its end. As I enter into my final semester at Holy Cross, I want to dedicate this chapter not only to CBL, but also to Professor Ryan, Isabelle, Michelle, the other CBL Interns, and my friends. Thank you for the memories and experiences you have given me thus far, and for at one point or another being the catalyst that pushed me to get where I am today. I am forever grateful.