May 1st, Mission, and Vocation

May 1st is rapidly approaching for the class of 2015. It is the date that marks the next stage in their educational career. More importantly, it is also a wonderful opportunity to reflect on vocation and mission.

St. John Henry Newman, a famous promoter of the university, appropriately frames the significance of May 1st:

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away.

Educational experts, political pundits, and the culture at large claim that without a college education, no individual can succeed. All parents and children feel the pressure to go to a legitimate, competitive, and prestigious college. The conversation extends to families, business leaders, economists, politicians, and guidance counselors. It is slowly but surely morphing into a debate, for it was once held that no child will ever be able to achieve financial independence unless he or she received a bachelor's degree. Is this a worthy debate? What does the evidence suggest? Surely, we should refer to the data, right?

New Hampshire ranks #1 in average student loan debt ($32,795), according to the Institute for College Access and Success. In 2014, the Consumer Credit Panel released the total amount of student loan debt in America, a whopping $1.08 trillion. What is the pattern? In 2005, the average total of individual student loan debt was $17,233. By 2012 the average U.S. student loan debt climbed to $27,253–a 58% increase in just seven years, according to FICO.

If students are accumulating more debt, are they at least landing jobs to pay off their loans? This is where the pressure really affects parents and students. Although only 8% of 24-30 year olds with a college degree are unemployed, it is startling to consider how many are under-employed. The Center for College Affordability and Productivity reported that 48% of college graduates are currently employed in a position that does not require a college degree. 

Is it worth the investment?

By and large, the wrong question is being posed. Instead of asking, "Which college should I attend?”, high school seniors ought to be pondering, "What is my vocation? How can I maximize my gifts to become the best version of myself?" “What good have I been called to do in order to make a mark on this world and serve others?”

The purpose of high school is to keep as many doors open as possible. High school students struggle to balance their social life, academics, and family life. The students who apply themselves gain a competitive edge, but not the type of edge that the culture embraces. Instead, students learn the value of their own dignity, and the limitless potential of their good efforts. What advantage can be gained from learning one’s own value?

There are only 7 seniors in the class of 2015 at MRA. Not all of them intend to enroll in a four year college. And yet, they have accumulated just over 1.5 million dollars in scholarships. The temptation is to say, “good job”, you have made more money in your high school career than you even knew at the time.

Even though seniors are committing to amazing institutions in the coming days, we can never lose sight of the big picture. The value of our efforts is not determined by any type of monetary figure or employment status.

As John Newman stated, the greatness of May 1st is derived from the fact that each person has a purpose that extends into eternity. We may get to heaven in different ways, but our efforts will never be discarded.