Do you ever find yourself sitting in school asking, “When am I ever going to need (insert irrelevant school subject) in the real world?”
I know, summer is so close you can practically taste it; so, why am I talking about education? Bear with me, please.
By the time we’re 18, most of us have spent at least 13,000 hours inside a classroom. It’s likely that we’ve felt some of that time was irrelevant or wasteful, to say the least.
In my case, there was a time when my sole purpose for attending school was to maintain my reputation. I worried more about making connections with friends than making connections with lessons, regardless of how it affected my grades. I was driven, but in all of the wrong areas. My family and teachers sighed like broken records with disappointment — emphasizing the potential I had to be great, if only I’d transfer my energy to better, more worthy causes.
Halfway through eighth grade, after begging me for what felt like ages, my parents convinced me to go on a weekend retreat. I shared a room with a group of girls that came from completely different backgrounds, and we had a lot of emotional conversations about where we came from and our personal struggles. For the first time ever, I understood how blessed I was. Then, during my first experience of Adoration, I realized everything I had was because of the sacrifice Jesus made for me.
It was beautiful, like nothing I had ever experienced before. The whole weekend of witness, testimony, prayer, and worship made me realize I had been going about so many things the wrong way. Jesus suffered so I could be free, and what I chose to do with my freedom was not commendable. I knew I had to change.
Come Monday morning, I walked the halls of my school recharged and ready to make the best of the opportunities I had missed. I chose to take advantage of what was left of my education, but that didn’t come without its challenges.
Chasing the “American Dream”
Growing up with immigrant parents, everything was about thriving beyond the opportunities they had. My parents are small business owners, always working long, exhausting shifts to provide the “American Dream” for our family. They’ve sacrificed everything to give me a chance at an education beyond anything they have ever experienced.
But, their hard work came with expectations.
I knew a path had been laid out for me — graduate high school, then graduate college, then become a professional and take over the family business. Anytime I’d think otherwise they’d remind me, “It’s your legacy, mija; we built it for you and your siblings.” I knew that if I let them down, everything they had worked for would be wasted. As a first-generation graduate, I wanted nothing more than to make them proud — no pressure, right? Wrong!
Whether it’s the expectation of society or our families, there will always be a stereotypical idea of success. But, the truth is that success is what you make out of what you can offer. It’s your journey — with learning experiences as battle scars and badges of honor to be proud of. No one can take it away from you: not a professor who grades you differently than you thought you deserved, not an acquaintance that judges you without understanding everything you have to balance outside of the classroom, not even a school counselor who makes suggestions that don’t line up with your desires because they “know what’s best for you and your future.”
While others may have a plan for you, and you might even have a plan for yourself, nothing compares to the plan God has for you. Regardless of what you’ve heard, there is no perfect “American Dream”; but if you dream of using your best attributes to fulfill the mission God has for you, that within itself is perfect.
Dream to Mission, Mission to Reality
So, where does education fit into all of this? It starts by acknowledging what it can do for you. School isn’t just a place where you go to learn about several subject matters. It’s a place of discernment — it’s where you discover your best attributes and learn to make use of them, for once those attributes are discovered, you can truly embrace the mission God has for you.
There is a beautiful parable about talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In the parable, God gives talents to three servants. One hid his talent to preserve it. The other two invested their talents and were given more because they were faithful and fruitful with them. In the end, the talent was taken away from the servant who hid it and was given to the others because God knew they would make better use of it. If you embrace your gifts, they will be multiplied. That is why it is important to be ambitious and make good use of the talents God has given you.
Summer is a good time to discern your talents, so try asking God how school can help you develop them further; and as you make the decision to serve and begin to take action, consider building a foundation of resources. Although my retreat was transformative, I can’t always go on one every time I need a reboot or am figuring out which direction to go next. We need additional resources to help us along the way. For me, it was a spiritual director. You can find one as well, or you can get involved in your local youth group or active parish ministries, dive into Scripture, or find a friend to hold you accountable to your goals for the next school year — or all of the above! Whatever you decide, use this summer to lay down the foundation for a purposeful school year in the fall.
Beyond the First Step
Acknowledging the purpose of education is only the first step. Action must follow, which allows us to be servers in our homes, parishes, and community. God wants us to multiply and share our gifts beyond our goals and dreams — He needs us to be disciples in the world.
We need Christian leaders in our professional world just as much as in our parish. We need peacemakers in our classrooms, at our jobs, on athletic teams, and in our community. We need good Samaritan examples in politics and pop culture. Our purpose is to become holy individuals who make the world a better place — and education is an invaluable tool in making that possible.
How will you use this summer to make more of your educational experience next year?