If you’re unaware, Arrupe College is the first of its kind: a two-year college embedded within a Jesuit university. Arrupe seeks to provide greater access to higher education for students who, by no fault of their own, wouldn’t otherwise have many chances to attend a four-year institution of higher learning. For two years our (now) graduates have been pioneers in an effort to dramatically reimagine who deserves a college education and what it takes to grind it out all the way to the graduation stage.
Perhaps I’m just a skosh biased; I do work at Arrupe, after all.
But, I’ve seen enough to know that what unfolded this past Saturday was something singular – a moment that stood in defiance of the narratives about who can succeed in college and who has the capacity to shift the course of their own reality. A moment during which I felt as if the whole world had been changed for the better. Mortarboards bedazzled with messages of sacrifice and hope. Scores of people who had never seen a college graduation before. Young adults who have faced tremendous challenges and thrived anyway.
Just before they began classes, the first students of Arrupe College (and every one since) were given a frame, empty and waiting for an embossed diploma bearing the name of St. Ignatius of Loyola. That frame represented a promise that came to fruition on Saturday – that if a student commits, they will not be forgotten, they will not be given up on, and they will earn a degree. Now, the majority of students who began at Arrupe are moving on with filled frames and into the world of four-year institutions and meaningful employment.
For all of us, the story of Arrupe College means that in spite of ever-rising costs of higher education in America, in spite of ever-widening achievement gaps, and in spite of under-resourced and underserved primary and secondary schools nationwide, we can make college education a real opportunity. All this despite adversity and injustice which threatens our entire country and its education system.
Not surprisingly, love was the word of the day, and love was the key ingredient. In the words of the student speaker, Asya Meadows: “It all began when I fell in love. It was slow, steady, and it happened unexpectedly. The love I found embraced me and made me a better person. It’s been one of the great loves of my life – the kind of love everyone hopes they will have the chance to experience. Now, before you go searching for this person in the crowd, let me give you one crucial detail: it not a person. Actually it’s not just one person – it’s people; It’s Arrupe. Not Maguire Hall, or its walls, or stairwells – or the elevators that only seem to work sometimes. But the people: the students, professors, staff – even the security guards who yelled at me to leave the building. Everyone.”
This love is all-encompassing and contagious – this fall, the second Arrupe-model school is opening at the University of St. Thomas in the Twin Cities. And, there’s no question that this love still matters deeply. Those very same days when Arrupe celebrated a series of firsts, we were yet again reminded of what hatred can do, this time in Charlottesville. For every moment shared among people in love there is, sadly, a moment of hatred waiting to bring it crashing down.
Arrupe College’s first graduation stands as a living monument to the reality that fear and hatred will not win the day. On that day I saw that it was love that brought these students through their two years and it is love that will move us forward.
Congratulations, graduates. Again, Asya: “So savor and remember this great moment…it’s our time now to continue…and live with greater love than fear.”
To see more images of Arrupe College’s Inaugural Commencement, click here.