Bonds that knit us together

As my children approach their college graduations, I’ve begun reflecting on all the things I didn’t know when I graduated from John Carroll. Among these many omissions was the concept my lifelong connection to the place was only beginning then.

And yet this bond eludes easy description. Sure, we love our school teams, but we don’t bond with them the way Duke or Ohio State grads do. There’s something else driving this lifelong affinity.

Perhaps it has to do with the effectiveness with which Jesuit ideals (men and women for others) have been instilled, or possibly the coziness of the campus, the commitment of the faculty and staff, or the unique warmth of our reunions. It’s probably all of those and more. However it happens, we become knitted together – across generations and geography – like few other communities I’ve known or heard about.

To be fair, I should stipulate I was luckier than most when it comes to being steeped in that bond. I’ve lived near campus for years. I also was fortunate to have worked at John Carroll through a formative five-year period some years ago, which is a unique vantage point from which to study what makes the place tick, what makes it so enduringly special.

In that latter role, I was able to watch how people such as Paul Kantz ’63, Pete Bernardo ’67, ’72G, and Gordy Priemer ’64, to name just a few, deftly helped knit the community together with years of selfless, behind-the-scenes acts of generosity that, to me, have become the living expression of what Jesuit education is all about. They taught these lessons the way great parents parent: not by preaching, but by acting, silently inviting others to follow their lead.

What all these people, and others like them, shared was a focus on community- building and gently nurturing relationships that last a lifetime.

These lessons have new resonance for me in this period some are calling the Great Recession. Millions of white-collar college graduates were hit with sudden job loss, generally through no fault of their own. Dozens of these dazed and wounded survivors eventually found their way into my email in-box through one avenue or another. Perhaps they heard I was a soft touch for meeting fellow JCU grads and pointing them in a direction I hoped might be helpful. I tried to open a door or make an introduction where I could. Sometimes all I could do was share an article about job-search strategies or send yet another upbeat note, encouraging them to keep their chin up. I figured it was my way of paying back all I learned from these role models, my John Carroll elders.

My advice to these fellow Carroll grads was simple. Take the time to do what you’ve probably been too busy to do for years: reconnect with your roots. The best way to find a job isn’t by blanketing HR departments with resumes, but by connecting with someone you know who can help, someone with common emotional equity in your shared past. So reconnect with all of your tribes, the groups with whom you’ve shared memories: your childhood friends, people with whom you used to work, people in your faith community – all the people you were once close to but have drifted away from. But as you reconnect, pay the closest attention to your JCU community, and not just those who attended school in your era. In 30 years, I’ve yet to meet a John Carroll graduate who isn’t happy to make time for a fellow grad. For many people, this will prove to be the closest tribe of all, the one whose members are most eager to help.

I say this to the newest crop of graduates: You’re entering an extended community that will warmly embrace you for the rest of your life, if only you’ll let it. Don’t hesitate to harness that incredible power. But remember, too, any good community is like a bank, which, by its nature, must attract deposits as well as offer withdrawals. Even as you receive help, advice, and support, remember to offer help of your own, however and whenever you can, no matter how small your gesture might be.

I guarantee it will matter to someone. JCU

John Ettorre ’80 is an Emmy-winning writer, editor, and writing coach.

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