“Gonzaga’s promise is just as much (if not more) about the way we do things as it is about what we do."
Last fall, I began the 2014-15 academic year reflecting on how to more clearly define what makes our work at Gonzaga University distinctive. No sooner had I begun the inquiry, I had an experience that confirmed for me the answer.
On a trip to Los Angeles, I attended a small gathering to connect with alumni and parents of students from that region. As is my practice, I talked about the state of programs at GU and our hopes for the future, and then opened it up for questions. Rather than asking questions, however, this group wanted to reflect on the meaning of their Gonzaga experience. I needed this more than I realized. Graduates talked about the impact of their professors and lifelong friendships forged here, and parents of current students searched for words to adequately express how happy they are with the support their students are receiving.
It was all wonderful to hear, but there was one story in particular that stood out.
Jake Bigley has cystic fibrosis, a disease that causes frequent – and severe – lung infections. Throughout his years at Gonzaga, he faced considerable health challenges, and says that without the tremendous support from faculty, staff and students, he would not have graduated. Today, Jake is a newspaper journalist in the Los Angeles region.
The gift of this gathering confirmed for me that Gonzaga’s promise is just as much (if not more) about the way we do things as it is about what we do. That distinction is essential to the lives of those we serve. What makes us a university is not just the structural composition, but the recognition that each of us is part of a greater whole. And what makes us a great university is our Jesuit tradition: We honor the value of every individual, recognize that spiritual growth goes hand-in-hand with academic excellence, and commit to use our God-given gifts for the good of others.
Every university in the nation has stepped up its efforts to ensure graduates are prepared for employment, and in every case possible, actually employed after graduation. Gonzaga has done an exceptional job in this arena through expanding internship programs and offering regular “Treks” so students interested in specific regions can meet alumni there who may have connections to flourishing businesses or have jobs to offer. Our volunteer leaders have taken this endeavor quite seriously, becoming involved personally with students to show them how to “rock the workforce” (the name of a wildly successful campus event hosted by several Trustees and Regents).
These are appropriate, and necessary, commitments. But we are about so much more than helping students get jobs. Our promise is to develop them as individuals who are responsible, critical thinkers with a passion for finding solutions for the world’s needs. Parents of our students are worrying less about their students getting jobs and more about what kind of people they’re going to be.
THAT is in fact our focus at Gonzaga, and what sets us apart from so many other institutions of higher education.
With gratitude and great hope,