Student: Paul Mendez
Majors: Psychology & Political Science
Started LUC: 2012
Where am I coming from? Well I was born in Gary, Indiana. When I was three months my family moved to Wheeling, Illinois and by eleven we hiked on over to Buffalo Grove, Illinois. For the majority of my life I lived in suburbia America being raised by my mother along with my three brothers. My mom is undoubtedly the largest influence in my life. I can say with certainty that if it wasn’t for her I most likely wouldn’t be where I am now. She’s the one who kept pushing me to better myself and pursue whatever I wanted because she herself wasn’t able to when she was my age. Coming from Mexico, being married, and having your first child at the age of seventeen didn’t allow her room for much to do.
However, the other two largest influences were my 2nd to 4th grade teacher Ms. Freedman and my high school AP language teacher Ms. White. Ms. Freedman is the one who helped me nurture my intellectual exploration in just understanding things and why they are the way they are. She was always my confidence booster encouraging me to dive into new things and explore the world through whatever means I could. I thankfully still keep in touch with her when I can. On the other hand, Ms. White played a role in my way thinking in asking the question of ‘so what?’ In high school, history and engineering were favorite classes, but when the bell rang for that one literature class I knew it far exceeded anything else I was learning. It gave me my foundation of questioning the conventional. In a geeky metaphor, she was my high school Socrates and her classroom was the Lyceum, minus the physical activity and people walking around in the nude.
Where am I going? That’s a question that I have been thinking about since I graduated from high school. First and foremost, I plan on graduating from Loyola with two degree’s: one in Political Science and the other in Psychology. For me, these two fields just make sense to pursue. Before coming to Loyola I had plan on becoming a civil-engineer, but I had an existential crisis mid-summer before freshman year and began reflecting in what I actually wanted to do. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to understand people, I wanted to understand the human experience, I wanted to know and feel why people are drawn one way rather than another. And thankfully I still feel all of those. Ultimately I hope that with my education I can go on to help whoever really needs it. I have the mentality of going where I must to those who need it the most, but I am drawn to helping the homeless, refugee and LGBTQ populations. As of now I have been thinking of joining the Peace Core, JVC, or pursue a military route after my undergrad.
Outside the classroom I am involved with a few things. Freshman year I joined the Men of Color Initiative, now known as the Brothers for Excellence. This program was initiated for students of Loyola who identify as men of color to build a community and pursue their highest potential. I unfortunately haven’t been able to take part of it as much as I would like, but it has introduced me to great individuals who work at Loyola such K.C. Mmeje, Curtis Main, Brian Anderson and Miguel Marcias. I have also found myself being involved with the Leadership Department by participating in the Start the Fire LEAD program and eventually becoming a student facilitator for their 2013 LEAD program. Until recently, I was a member of Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity. I was fortunate enough to be a member for two years, be their Co-Chair of Service for my sophomore year, and meet wonderful people. I have sadly chosen to leave it because of a demanding academic schedule that I will be taking on for the upcoming school year.
As of now I am working for the Office of the Vice President as a student worker, a position that I have been fortunate to have since freshman year. This position has definitely allowed me to see a population of Loyola that can sometimes be overlooked and underappreciated. Working for OVP has introduced me to the staff who works behind the scene to help make much of the programs that students are involved with a reality. But most of all the group of folks that I am extremely happy I have come across is Ramble Outdoors. Taking part of their internship in spring of last year opened a whole new experience for me that I plan on continuing until my last day as an undergrad.
One thing about Loyola that makes me smile is that my best friend/brother, Matthew Kugler, goes to school with me here. Evers since we were twelve we have been going to the same school. It would be about nine odd years now that we have known each other, and we plan on other nine, or till were old and feeble men. But what really makes me smile about it is that we beat the stereotype that living with your best friend will ruin your friendship. We did have out hard times here and there, but we managed through them like we always do. We are like Batman and Robin, except we are both Batman.
Two ways that I contribute to the Loyola community that come to mind are working with OVP and Ramble Outdoors. Being a student worker for OVP puts me as the first interaction students, faculty, staff, or others have when walking in to our office or calling us. In this position you are a sort of gate keeper helping individuals find the people they need to see and just making their day a little easier. Second, would be Ramble Outdoors. Although I haven’t lead any trips, I looked forward to the day I do. I say this because the trips I participated with Ramble Outdoors offered me a whole new way of reflecting and understanding myself. And most of all it allowed me to experience a genuine person to myself and others. And so this is an experience that I hope to share with others of the Loyola community.
Most of my interactions with the Rogers Park and Chicago community are through volunteering. I am grateful to my fraternity in that it introduced me to numerous outlets to volunteer through: Inspiration Café, Food Not Bombs, Labre, City Year, PAWS, Museum of Science and Industry, Shamrock Shuffle, Saint Baldric’s and pretty much every other service group. It has definitely been a privilege to work at the side of the people who make these organizations and the programs they run a reality. But the one outlet that I definitely feel a closer connection through is my current intern experience with RefugeeOne.
At RefugeeOne I work with the Human Resource and Employment Departments. I have had the chance to work with clients, individuals who are refugee’s, by taking them to job interviews, filling out job applications, and showing how to use the CTA. It was only until recently that I felt a closer connection with Rogers Park when I bumped into a client just down the street from Loyola, whom I had brought to a job interview. After we talked about his work and what he was up to I walked away with a feeling of gratefulness knowing that I helped him progress on his new life here in the U.S.
Justice. That is something I feel unqualified to define. I know that Loyola emphasizes the idea of Social Justice, but even that is difficult to characterize. If you asked me ten years ago, or even five years ago I could give a more confident answer. To me justice would seem to be something that must be black and white, something that is a counterweight of absolute to a world of ambiguity and an anarchic system of human interactions; almost a sort of calculus when dealing with the uncertainty of morality. But for now I define justice as a return to harmony, realignment to a state of balance and peace. But even that can be interpreted and misused into so many ways.
I would say the Jesuit education and teachings is a more developed approached to a way of life that I knew since a young age I wanted to live, but couldn’t properly word. For example, the student promise and the teaching of the heart’s deepest desire have always been relevant teachings in my life, just worded differently. The pursuit of the heart’s deepest desire was actually first introduced to me as the process of self-actualization in a text called Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee. Nonetheless, the Jesuits education here at Loyola has definitely influenced me by allowing me to explore my interests, pushing past limits and conventional wisdom. Even more, although I don’t identify as a conventional Christian, I have become far more appreciative and less ignorant to the Catholic religion that my family was brought up in. And ultimately, it has exposed me to all the diverse identities individuals identify with, and more than tolerant it has taught me to be accepting and affirming of them all.
My favorite spot on Loyola is probably the pier right on the beach next to Santa Clara. I don’t go there often, but when I need some time for myself to just relax and de-stress it just hits the spot. It is as close to the natural environment that I can get to here in the city, whereas back on campus and in thicket of the city jungle is as loud as can be. But when I do go into the city and want to be part of that jungle I enjoy going to the Museum Park. Aside from the gorgeous architecture, it’s fun going to the Field Museum or the Adler to just explore and learn things, even if it has no point. Learning for learning sake.
My advice for future Ramblers. Enjoy yourself, take your time, take your education seriously, but don’t let your studies get in the way of it. Learning is far more beyond the classroom and textbook. If you can, always avoid a mental F.U.B.A.R., your sanity is worth more than you know. Always remember to work hard and be proud of your accomplishments. Though do your best to be humble, kind and compassionate in your dealings. But if you do find yourself captain of the struggle boat, keep on paddling and the find friends and community who can help you through it; there is no shame in ever reaching out for help.
Allow yourself to explore and challenge the conventional wisdom, ask ‘so what’ about anything that you feel needs be challenged. Question yourself, challenge the things you have been taught and see if they truly ring to the person that you are. In my experience life is not meant to be a thing of absolutes, it is fluid more than you can ever imagine. Humanity is not meant to fall into rigid structures of behavior and roles that are in black and white. Yes, we all may seek similar things: peace, love, success, and happiness, but let yourself define those things. From there find the people who would accept such and in return accept them.
But if you take nothing away from this, at least take this “one see’s clearly with the heart, anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” Whether you feel you need to let out your inner weirdness surface, come out about the person you actually are, or feel the urge to lead a revolution, just remember to be you. We all will be called to a higher cause one day, but until then be you.
*Quote is from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Euxpery