Road Signs

Finding Yourself

Jonathan A. Niconchuk '09

The following is the address given by Jonathan Niconchuk ’09 to the Class of 2012 at Fall Convocation, Sept. 1, 2008.

Three years ago I sat where you are sitting as a sheltered, quiet boy from Topsfield, Mass., a rather typical overachieving premed ready to quadruple major and get involved in every club and committee. On the day of my Convocation the top song on the radio was “Gold Digger” and the top movie in theaters was The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Three years ago nobody had an iPhone, nobody thought the Celtics would ever win again, and nobody knew or cared about Miley Cyrus. Three years from tonight you will have changed a lot, but you will all remember who was in your orientation group. You will remember getting dressed up to come to your Convocation. And one of you will be standing here addressing the Class of 2015, hoping as I am now to find the right words to say.

In order to find those words, I knew I needed some help. I asked my friends—some from Holy Cross and some from other schools—for one-word metaphors to describe college. Naturally I got a few standard answers: “journey,” “adventure,” etc. One person just said, “It is like being a puppy lost in the woods.” I got answers that needed further explanation and then made sense: “whitewater rafting.” (No one knows what to expect beforehand; it can be wild and bumpy at times and calm other times, but you always have people to pull you back in the boat if you fall out. And afterward everyone wants to do it again.) And I also got answers that needed some explanation and still didn’t make much sense: “hot tub.” (Because, and I quote, “It is great for a while, but eventually you just have to get out.”) In the end I did not get the same answer from any two people. There is no single metaphor for college, just as there is no single metaphor for life.

Starting tonight and over the next four years, you will likely find yourselves in new—and sometimes uncomfortable—situations. You might find yourself in the library until it closes, while your roommates order Wings over Worcester (for the guys) or pasta from Boomer’s (for the girls). You will find yourself in long lines at Kimball, on the soft couches in Campion, and on the sidewalks of Caro. You will find yourself having long conversations with new—and suddenly very close—friends. And undoubtedly at times you will find yourself missing the comfort of home and the ease of old friendships. But the most important thing, the common bond among all of these situations, is that you will find yourself.

To find yourself; what does that even mean? We live a world more connected than ever, yet a world defined more and more by loneliness and shattered relationships. I saw a commercial the other day for a class that teaches you how to be yourself. Yet yearning so hard for individuality runs the risk of leaving everyone so individual that we all end up alone.

If I have learned one lesson during my time at Holy Cross it is that you can never find yourself until you give up almost everything you thought you knew. Over the past three years, I found myself on the beaches of Costa Rica, talking to landowners who were being bullied by large corporations ready to turn their small plots into eco-resorts. I found myself in the Wendy’s at the bottom of the Hill with a spitball stuck to the side of my face. I fired back at the boy from my SPUD site who shot it. We got kicked out, but then he asked me when he would see me next.

I found myself in a small village in El Salvador, playing soccer with gang members by day, and hearing their gunfire by night. I did not find myself by looking in a mirror; I began to find myself by looking out a window. Holy Cross gives you that window.

Looking out that window made me profoundly uncomfortable and shook my faith to its core. But a 4-year-old boy named Danielito from Zaragoza, El Salvador—a boy who looks just like me but lives surrounded by injustice and violence—asked me if I was ever coming back to help him. And while I can never explain injustice, I can say “yes” to Danielito. Once I gave up the idea that everything was all about me, things began to make much more sense.

As for my quadruple major plan, I ended up as a more sensible premed Spanish major and chemistry minor, running from Professor Farrell’s research lab to seminars on Don Quixote or the Cuban literature of exile. This year I am living with the kicker of the football team, a theatre major and actor, and the commander of our ROTC unit. As my room shows, Holy Cross is a place where individuality enhances rather than dilutes the community. It is a place where my class dean (Dean Peace) sent recipes to me and my roommates and even came to visit us when we lived off-campus this summer, participating in the College’s summer research program. It is a place that wants nothing more than to help each one of you find your place and your passion.

I’m sure all of you read this summer about the sometimes painful journey St. Ignatius took toward self-discovery. In the time of Ignatius, finding your literal place in the world was tricky. Subsequently, the prime meridian and the North Star made it possible to know your exact time and place in the world. Holy Cross will become your prime meridian, your North Star. It will give you such a strong sense of community and service that no matter what major or profession you choose, or where you end up in this world, you will unfailingly know where and who you are. In The Motorcycle Diaries, a young doctor named Che Guevara journeys across South America trying to find his true calling and place in the world. I will end with his words, “Let the world change you, and then you can change the world.”

Welcome to the Hill.