Dear BC Class of 2016,
“Take the shoes from your feet, because the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)
For me, Boston College is holy. I realized this from the moment Fr. Michael Himes referenced the passage above during freshman orientation.
BC, however, is not holy because of its top-30 academic ranking, Division I athletic program, or beautiful Gothic architecture. Nor is it holy due to its Jesuit, Catholic tradition. No, I believe BC is holy for a different reason.
I guess I should first define the word “holy.”
In this context, I believe holy is an adverb. After all, it does have the –ly at the end. To make sense of the word in this context, perhaps you can substitute “holy” for its actual adverbial form, “holily.”
So just as an adverb does not describe a noun, holy does not describe BC. Therefore in my first sentence of this letter, the adverb “holy” refers not to “Boston College,” but to the the word “is.” In this way, Boston College is not holy unless it is an action.
I will return to this idea later. For now, let me continue to explain what I mean by the word holy.
BC is not exceptional—it is no different from anywhere else. If you care to disagree, take a look across the Charles River. At Harvard, they are doing many of the same things we do at BC. In Cambridge, we find a place where people come together to learn and develop in the pursuit of truth. In fact, pthere are institutions of higher learning, perhaps like Harvard, that are higher-ranked, even more prodigious than BC at doing so. The school we attend is not the best, although it is certainly not the worst. Rather, I believe it is the same.
In this way, I contend that BC is unordinary. Maybe it is extraordinary. It doesn’t matter. What I do believe is that although Boston College is not different, it sure does do things differently.
In other words, it is not what BC does, but how BC does that is different. More importantly, I believe it is how BC does that is holy.
I believe BC is different than other schools. It brings people together differently than other schools. It pursues truth differently than other schools. It delights differently in the encounter and conversation to consider the most important questions of our human existence.
I could spend countless hours trying to pinpoint how BC does things differently, although I have a feeling that I will continue to ultimately arrive at more questions than answers.
Maybe the closest word to BC’s way of proceeding—what I mean by holy—is special. But just as I will never be able to fully describe to you how BC does things specially, I will never be able to exactly explain to you why BC is holy.
Rather, it is an intuition—one I’m sure I share with many of you. We don’t know why BC is holy. It just is. I believe if we truly knew how BC does things differently, more universities would try to do the same.
I promised you that I would come back to an idea. As I move forward in the Exodus passage from the word “holy” to the word “ground,” I return to this idea: Boston College is not holy unless it is an action. So if holy is an adverb, then ground is a verb. In this way, ground does not refer to a place or a location, but to an action or a type of experience.
In this context, I find the word “ground” to be the experience in which your parents “ground” you. Usually being grounded is the result of getting caught with a plastic water bottle full of tequila or lying about staying home to babysit your little sister (both from personal experience), but hopefully the punitive quality is not too relevant here.
The importance of the word is its passive nature. It is not something you do, but something that is done to you. In being grounded, we are placed somewhere by someone else. Therefore, we are grounded at BC—not because we are the actors who determined to bring ourselves to Chestnut Hill, but because instead we are the recipients of those people and circumstances that have placed us here.
The truth is that we ourselves are not the ones who placed us here at Boston College. Honestly, I don’t know many friends my age who decided at birth to attend BC and currently make $60,000 per year. Therefore, it is God or a transcendent being, along with friends and strangers (at least those in the Office of Admisson) that have somehow shaped our life circumstances and experiences in order to be here. It is our parents or caregivers who are determined to fund the immensely expensive gift of a Boston College education.
In the end, we are grounded at BC because we are meant to be here. This is no accident. But why us and not others? Again, I couldn’t tell you.
What I can tell you is that we are meant to be at this place that does things differently. We are placed, grounded, here on purpose so that we can proceed differently, more holy.
That is why Boston College is the most holy ground I know.
So here’s the deal: I truly love this place, but that doesn’t mean I want to be grounded here forever. You probably (definitely) won’t hear me ever saying or captioning a photo “Never Leaving” or “Eagles Forever,” but I’ll gladly take one more semester on the Heights.
I have no idea what the future holds. Hopefully by this point I’ve convinced you that you don’t either. I’m immensely excited for the future, but the future must always wait.
Right now, we have one more semester here on holy ground.
Let’s take our shoes off and bless it as best as we can.
Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor