As a campus minister and college chaplain at the University of Oregon Newman Center, I get the privilege of mentoring and ministering with many faithful and talented college students. For many college students, going off to college is the first time in life that they leave their parent’s house to be on their own. It can be overwhelming since they now must juggle the demands of study, work, and other “adulting” responsibilities, such as taking care of car payments and rents. It also means more freedom from mom and dad. With the ability to make their own choices, sometimes they don’t make the best choices and fail to learn from their mistakes.
To help them make better choices, I thought to ask Mother Mary for her advice on what she might give to college students. Here are three things that she would say to college students: First, don’t be afraid to ask for help. At the wedding of Cana, Mary noticed that a newly-wed couple ran out of wine. She was not afraid to ask Jesus for help (cf. Jn. 2:3). As a college student, you will encounter problems and perhaps even a crisis, like flunking a course or losing a first love. It can be paralyzing and devastating. I remember one student walking into the Newman Center one day in tears and shared that she flunked her courses and would be kicked out of school.She asked for help and with the support of the staff and her peers at the Newman Center, she got a second chance and changed her major. She has since graduated and is now the director of youth and young adults ministry.
Second, look for service opportunities. After hearing that her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant, Mary quickly made the long trip to help her. With the increased use of social media like Facebook and Instagram, one sad consequence is that it breeds narcissism. Students tend to be more concerned about themselves than others, spending a lot of time looking at how many followers and likes they get on social media. Instead, focus on helping others. Like Mary, say “I’m the Lord’s servant.” (Lk. 1:38) After hurricane Katrina, many of our college students spent a week helping the community in New Orleans recover and rebuild homes.
Finally, take a digital sabbath. If you are experiencing anxiety and feel overwhelmed, take a break, find a church or a quiet place to rest, and spend quality time talking with Mary’s son Jesus. Mary and Joseph also experienced anxiety when they went searching for little Jesus (cf. Lk 2:48), and found peace when they found him in the Temple. A digital Sabbath is a break and rest from using social media, texting, and other forms of electronic communication. Instead, connect face to face with a friend. During this last Lenten season, many students at the Newman Center gave up social media for the whole of Lent! Try it this upcoming Lenten season and see if you experience more peace.