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Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

(9/2016) Four years ago I was entering into my freshman year of college at Mount St. Maryís University. At the time, it seemed like the biggest change in my life and I suppose, at the time, it was. I had no idea what to expect or what I was getting myself into. Yet somehow I found that all of the best things in life start out feeling that way.

For me, the Mount was a completely new challenge in a new environment. Though the state was the same as the one I was used to, the landscape, the people, and the type of school itself were all very new to me. I always joke around saying that "I didnít choose the Mount" and that, rather, "it chose me." Maybe because that is the short and simple way to say it, or maybe because that is the best way that I can understand it myself. It just sort of happened. I was drawn towards the Mount like a moth to a light it hadnít even recognized to be illuminated until it was in reach.

Throughout my time at the Mount, I realized the love and passions that I had burning within me. The area and the opportunities I was presented with allowed me to grow and develop in more ways than I ever imagined possible. While that sounds like a clichť thing to say, there is more truth in it than I can even recognize.

My sophomore year of college I was taking a liberal arts class that was one of the many requirements under the Veritas curriculum. The class had been assigned a paper within the first week of classes that I, being a typical college student, put off until the last day to even begin to think about it. I sat in my XL twin bed around ten at night and decided that I couldnít put it off any longer.

Somehow, it has always been in my nature to be a rebel in the least rebellious ways possible. I always saw assignments as another way to rebel and ultimately do and write about whatever I thought to be more interesting or thought provoking. Though this particular essay was supposed to be about specific themes in the literary work "Candid" by Voltaire, I decided that I was going to investigate the reasoning for the authorís negative connotation towards the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. I spent the whole night researching and ultimately writing whatever I found compelling enough to get me what I assumed would be a decent grade.

Weeks later we got the papers back in class. I was surprised to find a note at the bottom of mine that said, "Lydia, please see me after class." I was stressed and thought I had totally failed the entire thing. Much to my surprise, my professor actually enjoyed my twist on the assignment and asked that I do further research on the topic and then present it as a project later on in the year. And so my fascination with the Jesuits began.

At the same time, college was turning me into a passionate advocate for social justice. When my new-found interest in the Jesuits and my energy towards social justice collided, I found the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and put it on my radar for post-graduation service. I am happy to say that after having this notion in my mind for a few years, I am proud to be a part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest and AmeriCorps.

At the beginning of August, I packed up the most essential things into my CRV and headed west with one of my older sisters. We traveled from Maryland all the way to Oregon. The nearly 60 hours in the car were full of lots of audiobooks, endless cornfields, the occasional new and exciting animal, and the essential chocolate bar from the nearest gas station. When I finally arrived into Oregon, I was welcomed into a community of nearly 150 other volunteers for orientation. We spent a week learning about the adventure ahead of us during our year of service work throughout the northwest of the United States. Soon enough, I was headed to Seattle and was given a set of keys to our 100 year-old house. I moved in with six other individuals who will also be doing a year of service work in Seattle. Though we all have different service sites, we have intentionally formed a community in which we will share meals, emotions, and journeys.

When anyone starts a new adventure in their life, you never quite know what to expect and maybe thatís what makes the scary for some and exciting for others. Moving out to Seattle with a bunch of people I had never met before has already been a huge adventure for me and something that has made me recognize both my courage and my rashness to act on my instincts.

The city is incredible and every turn seems to hold something new to me. It takes traveling and exploring for you to realize how little you actually know. And yet, isnít that what life is all about? If we are not willing to grow and change then why bother?

In the short amount of time that I have spent in the city, I have been overwhelmed by the number of people that are simply fighting to be seen. The amount of homelessness within the city of Seattle is extensive and heartbreaking. The number of individuals seeking asylum through the local agencies overwhelms the resources that are available. The human beings that pass those on the side of the street or ignore when they call out for change is passively destroying dignity.

When did we stop seeing people as people and push them aside as if they were a burden? When did we decided that some voices had more strength than others and that itís best if the ones that donít agree with us are silenced? When was it declared that to be acknowledge you had to have showered within the past 12 hours and not be covered in tattoos? When did we decided that anyone can put themselves on a level of superiority if they donít have tracks on their arms or a brown paper bag beside them?

One of the most important aspects of living life as a Jesuit Volunteer is simple living. This means living on a very strict budget, having very limited use of technology and luxury items, and evaluating what is actually essential in life. Iím sitting on the fifth floor of the public library in downtown Seattle writing this article. Itís a beautiful and sunny day outside. I passed countless individuals experiencing homelessness on my way here and even complained that I was hungry. The computers around me are all occupied by human beings that have had more and different experiences than I have. A man beside me types up a poem he has scribbled in his journal. A woman behind me quietly sings of a struggle I have never known. A man covered in tattoos tucks everything he owns under his chair and a woman fills up every water bottle she could get her hands on from the fountain through the hall. How did we ever come to imagine that just because people have been through different things that their journeys were ever any less than our own? Every individual that we encounter is going through a struggle that we know nothing about unless we engage them in that conversation. Ultimately, arenít we all on a journey? Coming or going with more unknowns than we can count and hoping all along that someone will offer us a smile or hold the door when we walk by because we each need someone to acknowledge our presenceówhether we admit to it or not. We are bound to each other and our fate and happiness are intertwined.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen