In Search of the Good

How a week in West Virginia with a group of Gen Z students changed my life

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A few minutes before beginning our trip. Photo courtesy of Canisius College Campus Ministry.
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Photo courtesy of the author

At the end of each long day, Team Wheeling, as we called ourselves, walked back to our modest living quarters at the Mother Jones House.

At the end of each long day, Team Wheeling, as we called ourselves, walked back to our modest living quarters at the Mother Jones House, a two-story house named after the American labor leader. Because it was under renovation, we slept on air mattresses in two open and unfurnished rooms on the second floor. The small bathroom that we all shared did not have a functioning shower, so we learned to be resourceful and ready to improvise with dry shampoo and a bar of soap.

Maybe we simply needed to express our anger, as we struggled to make sense of the harsh realities we were witnessing.

The closing group prayer became our way to communicate concern — and ultimately hope — for the Wheeling residents we met, and for each other, as we grappled with the real-life lessons we would be bringing home with us. Although we interspersed them with the refrain Lord, hear our prayer (which I learned from the students is part of Catholic tradition), our prayers became spontaneous, open-ended expressions. Two members of the group, my colleague and a first-year student, often serenaded us with some of their favorite gospel hymns. Their soulful voices pierced through any sorrow that lingered.

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The second floor of the Mother Jones House

Their life stories, despite our different life experiences, affirm a shared humanity.

My adventure in Wheeling also reaffirmed the concept of college as being more than simply a place to earn a four-year degree. What good is a 4.0 GPA if you graduate with your provincial worldview unchallenged and unchanged? How much are professional accomplishments truly worth if you lack an ethical compass? What about a business executive whose sole focus is on making a profit, even if it means duping the public or cheating shareholders?

Writer and editor. Just here for the happy medium.

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