Enriched By Empathy
The Senior Compass Series
Unlike some of my peers, I did not come to Georgetown because of its Catholic affiliation or for any religiosity associated with a Jesuit education. The daughter of a seldom practicing New York Jew and a largely agnostic Australian woman, religion played no role in my upbringing, nor did I hope to find a way for it to in college.
I was, however, very impressed by Georgetown’s commitment to social justice and its unique ability to facilitate opportunities for students to engage in public service in the heart of our nation’s capital. And when I arrived on the hilltop, I dove in to that culture.
In my time as a Hoya, I worked on two political campaigns. One which promised to pour money back into Pennsylvania’s public schools and successfully did so. And one which promised to prove that love trumps hate. As you know now, that campaign failed, but in so many ways, its message resounded.
Ten weeks later, I sat on the Capitol steps at the winning candidate’s peaceful and democratic presidential inauguration.
I attended a public health summit with a faculty member turned aid-worker, and skyped an African head of state in the height of the Ebola crisis. I wrote about women in leadership and interviewed the director of the Peace Corps. I sat in the Senate Press Gallery with the individual who brought political news to BuzzFeed, and taught me that journalism is about giving a platform to the people and issues that do not have one. Not about glamour.
I delivered hundreds, if not thousands, of cups of coffee.
On so many occasions, Georgetown enabled me to stand close to halls of power and wonder what it might be like to one day fill them. What I did not expect, is why a set of Jesuit ideals would change the reasons I would want to.
I came to Georgetown believing the only thing I held in common with the Jesuits were the initials SJ. But through the reluctant fulfillment of theology class requirements, the hunger-fueled attendance of many a chaplains’ tea, and a few late night lollipops, I was pleasantly proved wrong.
I learned that those same ideals that drew me to Georgetown, a concern for social welfare and a value put on service, were the same ones that inspired the Jesuits to found our university more than 200 years ago. I came to see that the Jesuit values printed in Latin on blue posters around campus— “Men and women for others,” “Care for the whole person,” “Community in diversity”—were exactly what animated that spirit of Georgetown I had always found so appealing. Far more so than a proximity to our federal government.
My professors, of the Jesuit tradition, of other faith traditions, and of no tradition, incorporated these values into their classrooms and opened my mind to things I had long since decided weren’t for me. They helped me replace apathy with curiosity and forever gifted me with the ability to respect traditions and ideas I do not claim as my own.
Weeks away from receiving our diplomas, I am proud that my peers and I will graduate from Georgetown with an enriched capacity for empathy. And I hope that we will graduate with a commitment to doing good, not just well.
We are living through days that will surely become a formative time for our generation and a critical point in our nation’s history. Now is the time to stand up for Americans who have not had the same advantages and opportunities that we have been afforded. Groups and identities across America are under attack and freedoms uniquely and quintessentially American are at risk.
But Georgetown has given us the toolkit, the connections, and the Jesuit sense of responsibility to protect them.
Sydney Jean Gottfried is a senior in the College. This is the first installment in The Senior Compass Series, which will appear ever Wednesday.