What comes to mind when you think of college students? There’s a good chance you envision keg parties jammed with fraternity guys who are sloshing around in ankle-deep beer. Grain alcohol mixed with Kool-Aid. Freshman girls, leering guys, ear-splitting music, tight jeans, and promiscuity. And all the while, Mommy and Daddy working second jobs to foot the bill.
Not all that long ago, I spent several days immersed in a very different college experience. Oh sure, there were pick-up Frisbee games and strange music blasting across the quad, but what I saw beyond this may surprise you.
I was visiting Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Franciscan describes itself as "Academically Challenging, Passionately Catholic," and it’s true. Franciscan friars in hooded robes are frequent sights around the campus, often strolling in animated discussions with students whom they know by name.
One highlight of my visit was a campus-wide Mass. It was Holy Week, so Mass was celebrated in the sports complex rather than in the chapel, in order to accommodate the large crowd. A corps of over 100 students moved the altar, vestments, chairs, candles, music equipment and scores of items necessary for Mass. Arriving worshippers were welcomed by greeters wearing tie and jacket, or a dress. Ushers assisted people in finding seats. (Imagine that.) The team also included sound technicians, sacristans, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, musicians, and lectors, many of whom wore headsets to facilitate seamless coordination. All were students. That’s right. These kids were college students.
In the middle of the Mass, a visitor near the back collapsed with what turned out to be a heart attack. Within 60 seconds, ushers and other team members had called 911, requested on-site doctors and nurses, secured the defibrillator and cleared an area for medical personnel. By the time the priest walked down the aisle to the stricken woman, a sacristan had retrieved holy oils for anointing. In the midst of all this, the victim’s heart stopped, rendering her clinically dead. Immediately, a team member used the defibrillator to restart the woman’s heart.
When the paramedics arrived a few minutes later, the woman was chatting amiably with nearby ushers.
Only the paramedics and the priest were adults. All the rest were students.
The interesting thing is that while there was great rejoicing at the woman’s recovery, no one seemed surprised at the level of responsibility exhibited by the students. The prevailing attitude was, why wouldn’t students be responsible?
Lest you think that a strongly Catholic college provides an inferior education, you should know that for eight years running, U.S. News & World Report’s guidebook on "America’s Best Colleges" has ranked Franciscan University in the elite "top tier" of Midwestern universities. My son attended Franciscan, and it led to admission at one of the country’s most rigorous doctoral programs in physical therapy. A niece graduated with an engineering degree and immediately landed a job at NASA. These kids get a great education.
Terrific students can be found on every college campus. A St. Anselm College freshman spent his spring break volunteering in Boston tenements. A UConn junior leads a Bible study in her dorm. A University of Hartford student plays the organ at all Sunday Masses in a local parish.
I know college kids who tutor underprivileged children, lead prayer groups, enter religious life and protect our freedom in the armed services. One ingenious kid started a weekly Bible study in his apartment, followed by a poker game. Many guys initially attended the poker game only, but eventually joined the Bible study when their interest became piqued by discussions over poker. That college kid knows what it means to be as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove.
College students: they’re not all losers, boozers or cads. Many are living the faith and sharing the good news of the Gospel in places to which adults do not have access.
College kids rock.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.