Recently I was called on to write essays on two apparently unrelated topics. The first one is much under debate in the media and throughout higher education: the responsibility of colleges and universities to be accessible and affordable to students of all backgrounds. The second one? A topic that most of us reflect on all too little: the meaning of vocation
As with the many projects which students and faculty (and presidents) juggle, these projects seemed connected only by their deadlines not their subject matter--until I realized that they were not only related but closely linked to what Alvernia is all about.
Alvernia has a long history of reaching out to students often overlooked by larger, more expensive, and better known schools. Our students have been sons and daughters of immigrant families, women returning to school after raising families, working adults seeking to achieve long-delayed educational goals or to change careers; young students from families with limited resources but high aspirations. Since its founding by the Bernardine Franciscans—indeed, because of our Foundresses--Alvernia has believed that the personal attention families expect of a private college should be accessible to all, regardless of financial resources.
From freshmen to doctoral students, we hear the same message: Alvernia faculty and staff care about their students. Individual attention, intellectual challenge, practical experience in a caring community and at an affordable price are hallmarks of the Alvernia experience.
None of this happens by accident. Franciscan values and the ideal of “knowledge joined with love” make a pivotal difference in the quality of an Alvernia education. Unlike at larger public institutions and even private colleges with no religious affiliation, Alvernia’s students experience more integration of values and ethics in classroom discussions. Not only do they strengthen communication and leadership skills and emerge well prepared for their first job or for graduate school, but they deepen their commitment to service and to the common good. And their lives are changed in even more profound ways: they develop social awareness and a moral compass to guide their actions.
At Alvernia, we expect our students (and graduates) to do well and to do good. And this is where the concept of a vocation, or “a calling,” comes in.
As a young boy, raised in a Catholic family where both uncles had left home shortly after high school to become priests, I had a very focused understanding of vocation. It was a calling, to be sure, but a mysterious and elusive one reserved for a select few. One might consider it, even seek it, but membership was limited.