Amber Alison Hewitt
Student speaker: Graduate School-IPS
Good afternoon Reverend President Garanzini, Provost John Pelissero, Dean Samuel Attoh, Dr. Brian Schmisek, faculty, families, friends, and fellow graduates. I stand before you today with humility, gratitude, and honor as I pause to reflect on my experience as a graduate student at Loyola University Chicago.
Here at Loyola, we have been participants of a transformative education. Scholars have defined transformative learning as a shift of consciousness that dramatically alters our way of being in the world. This shift involves a better understanding of our self-locations, our relationships with others in the world, and structures such as race, class, and gender. Put simply, it is teaching that affects a change.
I have to pay homage to my mother and father who were my first educators to promote transformative learning. I remember my father distinctly telling me on a number of occasions, “Your head is not a sack of rocks.” This metaphor is one of many that I painstakingly, at times, was left to decipher after a long lecture. You might ask why this seemingly simple saying has had such a lasting impression on me through adulthood.
I must admit it has taken me years to fully appreciate and understand the lesson my father intended to teach. Obviously, I knew that my head was not a sack of rocks. How could it be? Putting this quote in context illuminates its true meaning. My father communicated this metaphor usually after I demonstrated to him that I did not use my cognitive skills to think appropriately through a certain situation. I now know that the greater message concerned the unlimited power of critical reasoning and the importance of using this skill to make meaning of my experiences. At an early age I realized that my ability to critically think and deconstruct the world around me is indeed my greatest tool. It was a longer process of learning to understand that if I was not using this tool for the benefit of others, I was not living a life worth living.
Graduates, how have you been transformed? At Loyola, I have been the recipient of an education that has empowered me to carry out my true vocation and it has propelled me in my pursuit of social justice. I am reminded of Paul’s letter to the Romans where he writes, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” When I reflect on these words, I grapple with how to align my thinking and actions with my vocation.
My vocation, or calling to serve others through the medium of psychology, was ignited long before I was able to truly appreciate “service through faith and the promotion of justice.” The discovery of my calling was the accumulation of the experiences of my parents and of my ancestors. You see, I am the daughter of the Deep South. I am the daughter of parents who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement. I am the daughter of those who survived a horrendous journey and a long voyage to what would be their new home. These examples of resilience live within me and have driven me to help others on their journey towards psychological liberation.
I am indebted to my experience as a graduate student at Loyola for providing a community that shares my values of service and justice. From my role as a graduate student in the Department of Counseling Psychology to my opportunity to serve in various organizations and boards, I am grateful. My experience at this great Jesuit institution has inspired me to not only be transformed through education, but to allow myself to be transformed by those I serve.
Earlier, I mentioned my calling, or vocation. Graduates, I ask of you to reflect on your vocation. I am not referring to the job or career that you will begin in the very near future. I am referring to that soft whisper inside of you that motivates and drives you. Have you truly listened to that voice? I am listening to mine. What has yours told you?
I thank Loyola for allowing me to respond to that whisper, to respond to my vocation. In the spirit of the Jesuit tradition, we are educated for others. As beneficiaries of a transformative education, how do you plan to transform society through the great work that you will accomplish in your respective fields? As you prepare to go forth and lead an extraordinary life, think on these words by Paulo Freire:
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
Graduates, go forth and transform our world.