By Father Francis Pizzarelli
Spring is a time for new beginnings. As you read this column, many of our college graduates will have graduated or are preparing to graduate this month. They are closing one chapter and opening a new chapter across the landscape of great division and polarization.
Four years ago, when they began their college adventure, the world was radically different. They have seen the polarization of our nation. They have witnessed the senseless destruction of a sovereign nation in Europe. They have been profoundly affected by the coronavirus and everything associated with it; two years of total disruption and having to live in ways unimaginable.
For the first time in 40 years of teaching, I have had a growing number of bright young men and women who were clearly ill-prepared for their first year of college. They had a very hard time with balancing school, work and life. College is not high school. College professors usually don’t pamper their students. They expect that students will attend class regularly, hand in assignments on time and engage in lively conversation and debate.
Time management has been a real challenge. The quality of their critical thinking and their writing skills is clearly impaired. The issues of depression and anxiety are profoundly present as well as a lacking of ability and skills to do something about these issues.
So many colleges this year have been ill-equipped to respond to the growing number of students needing mental health support. Many local college campuses do not have enough mental health professionals to respond to the growing need.
We need to reshape our college learning landscape. We need to collaborate with our local high school colleagues and identify the ways that we can support students preparing to go to college, to help them address those weaknesses that will impair their success.
Educators at every level have to work harder on behalf of our students and make adjustments that will empower students at every level of education to do their best. Learning is a process, not a product. Despite these challenges there are extraordinary men and women that are graduating this year from our community colleges, our local universities and our graduate schools.
This past semester I have been privileged to teach the best of the best at St. Joseph’s College, Suffolk County Community Honors College and Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Services. These graduates at each level possess a passion for learning that I thought was lost. Their critical thinking and analytical skills are above the norm and their capacity for being sociologically mindful is beyond words and profoundly well-developed.
As a veteran educator, my spring semester students have inspired me to stay the course. They have taught me so many important life lessons. Each of them is committed to making a difference in their particular fields.
They really embody Gandhi’s words: “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Congratulations college graduates of 2022!
Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.