“Alone Together” – Emily Taylor ’22

This year, we have collectively felt an overwhelming sense of loss: for lives cut short by illness and injustice; for weddings, birthdays, and holidays celebrated without friends and family close by; and for all that was interrupted and all that could have been. This year has been heartbreaking, and it has been so challenging to remain productive in the midst of it all. I struggled to feel settled at the beginning of this semester. The class structures were unfamiliar, all aspects of extracurricular life remained uncertain for weeks, and I sorely missed the comforts of our campus that I had been taking for granted. However, I found resilience in community, and I’m particularly grateful to the Donelan Office. They have been a source of constant warmth and growth throughout my time at Holy Cross, and in spite of everything, this semester was no different. I have relied heavily on the patience and kindness of Isabelle, Michelle, and the other Interns. Rather than our biweekly meetings adding to my Zoom fatigue, I have come away from each and every Intern meeting feeling refreshed.

I’m especially thankful that leaders from the J.D. Power Center, the Chaplains’ Office, and OME among other faculty members worked together to build a new, virtual space for peer connection and continued civic engagement: the Civitas Leadership Institute. In our current times, we love each other best by maintaining our distance, but what does this mean for our commitment to be “for and with others”? The COVID-19 pandemic has been a heightened call to support those in need, but how can we be spiritually together while we are physically alone? The concept of civitas calls us to consider the responsibilities we have for other members of our shared communities, and the Leadership Institute served as a gathering place to find hope, strength, and direction with one another. Consisting of a month-long series of conversations about service and justice, Civitas encouraged us to be contemplatives in action. We considered how to best live out the Jesuit mission, we heard about ways we can organize in order to bring about equitable change, and we reflected upon where we can find hope in challenging times. The Civitas Leadership Institute demonstrated that we can continue to live a life of service and justice even when more traditional engagement avenues are unavailable. 

Through my time as a CBL Intern and as a student in the AIP seminar on Nonprofits and Government Agencies, I had already participated in multiple discussions about the topics that the Institute covered. However, this material becomes no less impactful over time; it is valuable to continue to learn about social justice concerns because with each re-read and new discussion, I am able to gain novel insights. During the Institute, I connected most deeply to the content about hope. There have been considerable setbacks politically, economically, and socially, and it’s been hard to remain hopeful. Michelle’s reflection on perseverance has stayed with me throughout the past month; hope is not magic nor a cure-all, but it is critical for continuing the difficult work we are called to do.

Although the Civitas Leadership Institute looked very different from my community engagement in past semesters, it still provided a space for contemplation. In my reflection, I’ve realized that despite the many negative aspects of this year, I still have a lot to be thankful for. This is not to suggest that anyone should rush their grieving process and adopt an attitude of blind optimism; we should feel it all — the frustration, the disillusionment, the overwhelming anxiety — for as long as it is healthy. Once we have grieved, we can begin to see how some of our losses have come back to us as gifts. Personally, I am grateful for hours-long Zoom calls with friends and family who live far away; although we have had the technology for years, we never actually used it before now. I am grateful that I was able to spend nine more months living with my older brother before he moved away. I am grateful for home-cooked meals, for the ability to bake desserts every weekend, and especially for the Dunkin’ Donuts five minutes from my house. Nothing about this year has been what any of us envisioned, but there are still patches of joy, warmth, and gratitude to be found. For all the grief we are collectively shouldering, this year has, at the very least, reminded us of our civic responsibility to ensure one another’s safety and comfort. We are members of the same community, and fundamentally, we belong to each other.

“Gratitude for and with others” – Morgan Vacca ’23

This semester, I have spent time getting to know the students and professionals involved with the Worcester Public Schools Transition Program. The Worcester Public Schools Transition Program seeks to promote self-sufficiency for 18-22 year old students facing a wide range of intellectual and physical challenges. Ultimately, through my virtual involvement in this wonderful group, I’ve learned about the power of gratitude in these unprecedented times. 

As I began my involvement with WPS, I found that virtually meeting everyone and getting to know the program would be a challenge. The craziness of “muting” and wifi connection certainly proved themselves as strong barriers to normalcy. After my first meeting, I remember being frustrated about the number of conversations that had been interrupted by technological difficulties. As the semester progressed, though, we worked together to solve these problems. We developed virtual projects to work on with Google Slides, we created artwork together, played get-to-know you games, and even laughed at some of the technical difficulties that were once so stressful. 

It was only when I started appreciating the creativity and teamwork that resulted from our struggles when I truly understood the power of gratitude. Before this experience, I had previously thought of gratitude in terms of materiality: being grateful for the things you have that others might not. I was certainly grateful for the material things in my life, and found that acknowledging this wealth of materiality was a benefit to my mindset. However, while gratitude can be material, it’s not always about “things.” 

As I continued to ponder the concept of gratitude, I realized that feeling grateful for simply being with the WPS Transition Program is what made my time so special. Appreciating every moment of our meetings, even through a computer screen, not only improved the quality of my contributions to myself and to others, but improved the quality of the connections I was making. Gratitude is the exact reason why our semester was successful; we faced a number of challenges, but were able to solve them by appreciating the opportunity to be with each other. For this reason, gratitude can’t be something we reserve for dinner conversations on Thanksgiving or gift-giving on Christmas. In this virtual world, it’s easy to lose any hope of making enjoyable connections or discoveries. However, by simply practicing gratitude, I realized that the connection and discovery we’re so deeply craving has been at our fingertips this whole time. If we truly maintain a sense of awe about the present moment, we realize how wonderful it really is, and are able to seize the endless opportunities it brings.