A community of love

By Nicholas Wiltsie

As I sit on a bus late at night, returning from the annual Phi Alpha Delta trip to Washington, D.C.,–a trip I have now taken three times–I cannot help but reflect back on my last four years at Canisius. Thinking about my time at Canisius elicits many different emotions: appreciation for the opportunities it has given me, admiration for the people I have met, melancholy over the thought of leaving, frustration with administration, fear of the impending unknown; the list goes on. More than anything, though, a reflection on Canisius fills me with two emotions that stand above all the rest: pride and love.

Faith

Canisius has afforded us many opportunities. Among those I am most grateful for is the self-awareness of faith in my life that I leave Canisius with. Faith means different things to different people, but I’d like to think for most of us, we are now leaving Canisius with a greater sense of faith. When I came to Canisius I did not practice any religion; I saw the fact that Canisius was a Catholic school as a minus–not a plus. I never would have imagined that four years later I would be sitting in the front row at mass, working in Campus Ministry as a Spiritual Intern, and directing Kairos retreats.

The Kairos journey I have taken while at Canisius has been the center of my college experience. A friend recently told me that Kairos represents everything Canisius means to her; I couldn’t agree more. While no two people have the same Kairos experience, the opportunities it affords everyone to grow–in their relationships with others, in their relationships with God, in their outlook on life–are truly incredible. I know not everyone has had the opportunity to make a Kairos retreat, but to those of you that have, here’s my advice: don’t let it die. Keep living out the love you learned on Kairos in every facet of your life. Live the fourth.

Beyond spirituality and religion, Canisius has taught me how to have faith in other people. I have not always been the most trusting person, but I’d like to think that Canisius has brought me closer to believing in others more and doubting their intentions less. I leave Canisius, like so many of us, with as renewed faith in the world around us – a renewed faith that our world can be a world of love, a world of compassion, and a world of hope.

Justice

Canisius is a Jesuit school. As a Jesuit school, the claim is often made that we are a college that believes in and promotes social justice. The question has been asked: how just is Canisius really? One thing I will say about my time at Canisius is that it has certainly opened my eyes to troubling social justice issues. The commitment of the Canisius student to do good in the world, to serve the community they live in and to make the world a better place is truly remarkable. The vast service and immersion opportunities offered around Buffalo, the United States, and the world have made us think and live more like men and women for and with others.

The claim has been made that the administration hasn’t been meeting us halfway on the justice front. The claim has been made that the college itself should do more to push justice issues in the local community. I don’t know where I stand on that, but I do know this: the students are getting the job done. In the last year alone Senate passed a bill making us one of the first schools in the country to ban clubs and organizations from purchasing t-shirts made by sweatshop labor, we have successfully brought marriage equality advocate Zach Wahls to campus despite the many hurdles it involved.

Yes, it’s easy to see flaws in our social justice efforts, but there have been wins as well. We leave Canisius just a little more just ourselves. In doing so, we have made our local communities just a little more just. We have made the world more just. Now let’s keep our flames burning and set the world on fire.

Leadership

Where leaders are made. For three years this was the Canisius I knew. It was our slogan. It was our identity. It was part of what made Canisius, Canisius. Now the motto is gone, but does that really change much? Sure, it changes the way others see us (and I guess that’s a big deal), but has it really changed who we are?

I argue no. The leadership opportunities at Canisius underscore the opportunities that have made our college so special. From the chance to start and run clubs and organizations to leading retreats and service trips, there are opportunities all over the Canisius campus for our students to be leaders. I can hardly think of one student at Canisius who has not had to play the part of leader in at least one facet of their Canisius journey. This will pay dividends throughout our lives.

The day the purpose of student leadership finally clicked for me was a big day. One day it just dawned on me: why we do all that we do, why so much money is spent, why so much time is absorbed by so many people in the name of student leadership: it is prepping us for life. Student leadership teaches us so much more than leadership: it teaches how to treat people. It teaches us how to deal with adversity. It teaches us how to take the high road in both times of triumph and times of failure. My Canisius leadership journey has seen all of the above, from the highest highs to the lowest lows. But, through it all, I have learned. The leadership opportunities that Canisius has afforded me have convinced me that I truly can do great things in this world while still treating others with kindness, dignity and respect. To hell with stepping on others; we can climb to the top by helping each other up.

Exploration

Go exploring! The big, bad taboo word that has been plastered across our campus. At first I, like most of my fellow classmates, hated it. We’re leaders, not explorers! It really was incredible how fast animosity towards the idea of exploration spread across the campus.

But, I’ll admit it, I like exploring. When I really, honestly, think back about my time at Canisius, I’ve done a hell of a lot of exploring, and my guess is so have you. The other day I counted it up and realized I have been on 20 trips with Canisius since my freshmen year. I studied abroad in Galway, Ireland and traveled to nearly 10 different countries while I was there. This summer I will be traveling to El Salvador with a group from Campus Ministry. If these kinds of trips aren’t exploration, what is? Exploring is way more than traveling, though. All of the retreats we’ve been on, aren’t they all about personal discovery and exploration? Have you ventured out and discovered some of the little-known secrets of Buffalo? Exploration is there too.

At this time I offer no opinion on the success, failure, or merit of the marketing campaign, but I will say this: we’ve gone exploring at Canisius. This is nothing to be ashamed of. This is nothing that hurts our prestige. Canisius students are willing to step outside of their comfort zone and have become better people for it. I’m proud to have gone exploring.

Community

The hallmark of Canisius College is community. In a world where individualism is encouraged and selfishness is often rewarded, we have something special here at Canisius. Canisius College is more than just a school, a workplace, or an institution; Canisius is a community. The members of this community do not look at each other as just peers or coworkers; they see them as family members. Canisius is a family. Cura personalis; we care for one another.

Canisius students do not just know this love; they put it into action. The love Canisius students hold for one another can be witnesses all over campus. Be it a friendly hello in the hallway or compassionate hug during Sunday night Mass, love can be found everywhere. It is not limited to just close friends, though. Each and every day Canisius students can be found showing love to those outside of their groups. Smiling at strangers, asking cafeteria works how they are doing, and holding the door open for others are just a few small examples of how the Canisius community is always loving. Mother Teresa once said that “not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Canisius students embody this ideal.

The Canisius community changes a person. The individual that steps into the quad for New Student Orientation is not the same person that walks across the stage to receive a diploma. Two summers ago, during Orientation Leader Training, David Coleman asked the orientation leaders what it was that makes Canisius so special. The answer that all of the orientation leaders eventually agreed to was simple and straightforward: “the people.” The people at Canisius College are more than just a sum of individual parts, they are a community. It is community of love, compassion, and cura personalis. The Canisius community welcomes its newest members with open arms and teaches them to love just the same, creating a never-ending cycle of love. The Canisius community breeds individuals who love and care for one another; the people of Canisius College form a community of love.

On Canisius

I will miss Canisius College. The experiences I have had and the people I have met have created memories that will stay with me forever. More than anything, though, the person that Canisius has helped me become is the person I will continue to be after I graduate. Canisius College has absolutely, positively, without any doubt in my mind made me a better person, just as it has made so many others better people. The Canisius journey changes a person and we’re all better people for it. Thank you, Canisius.

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