Honors Alumni Newsletter
“Become What You Are Not Yet”
Reflections of a “COVID Senior”
by Erin Fabian '21
The above quotation from St. Augustine might make Villanova current students and past alumni remember promotional material from their Blue Key Tour or bring back harrowing memories of carefully crafted college essays. For me, it makes me think of a certain professor whose opinion of this inspirational quotation is as follows: “Well, of course. Think about it. What else can you become…except what you are not yet? That’s the very meaning of becoming.” After all, St. Augustine was not a fan of the idea of unconscious or accidentally becoming (i.e., “change for change’s sake), but rather wanted a person to be present to the process of becoming. The fuller sentiment is from a sermon, encouraging the listener: “Do not be content with what you are, if you want to become what you are not yet.” Just the latter half seems like the easiest process in the world, however with the added valuation of avoiding complacency, Augustine’s message changes. In order to be properly ordered to becoming, one must seek it themselves, rather than letting it painlessly arrive unannounced on its own.
A lot has changed since I started as a Freshman at Villanova in the Fall of 2017, which is the understatement of the century. “Becoming” has been evident everywhere: Campus has gained new buildings, the wi-fi service has improved for the Zoom Era, and Holy Grounds cold brew vastly outranks the hot coffee over ice from years past. Much of what I love about Villanova though, has stayed the same—the friendly waves throughout campus, the daffodils appearing out of nowhere after the last snow melts, and Falvey library as a welcome refuge most every night. But back to Augustine, it seems like a pretty obvious answer to the imperative call of Villanova—how can we help but become what we are not yet every single day? Even without conscious effort who we are unfolds further each day, whether or not we recognize our growth. Critically though, the recognition of that growth is what helps to propel us forward, rather than simply being adrift in aimless “progress.”
I think that this idea of being present to continued growth is what has gotten me through much of my year as a ‘COVID Senior.’ From the closure of Kelly’s to the Pavilion’s new role as a spit collection center, things have become what they had not been previously. But I have changed along with them too, for better or for worse, but all for the sake of becoming the next version of me—one that invigorates me rather than just leaving me ‘content.’ At the beginning of this year, it felt really easy to just let change overtake, rather than fully recognizing the good and the bad of the altered every day. However, as I began to learn, even if things felt stagnant, the small changes felt much more monumental than usual. And the monumental changes were met with terrified exuberance. The two weeks before the big changes are always the scariest part, because when the change arrives, we simply cannot help but become what we are not yet. Change sweeps us along, whether we want it to or not, so being properly ordered to the change is the only way to not be consumed by that sweeping.
Looking back over my four years at Villanova as an alumna, time seems to have progressed astronomically fast. It feels strange to be writing so seriously about a time so wonderful, exciting, and fun in my life, but it seems as if formative experiences beget some sobriety. Obviously, there is some sadness that comes with any ending, and with big life events often comes rumination on aging (because I am 22 and am totally justified in feeling old). There is such a way as to move forward and not just beyond, I believe, with a gathering mindset rather than a severing one. As myself and my fellow graduating classmates move on towards new jobs, graduate school, volunteer opportunities, and more, I know we will not shed, but evolve in our identity as “Villanovans.” After all, we are continuing to become, pushed along by the flexing logic of our present minds and the inarguable logic of pure time.
Villanova is a community, and this strange year full of unprecedented situations (including the unprecedented situation of learning to long for ‘precedented’ times) has proven this reality. Although the ideas of ‘community spirit’ and the ‘Caritas Commitment’ may have gotten cumbersome over the year, real truths often become annoying to hear. As any student that has been through the Honors Program understands, the value of searching for goodness, beauty, and truth persists. Despite everything, I think we got a little closer to understanding that transcendence this year. Even though it has been years since my Augustinian Culture Seminar, I think looking back on the roots of my first classes helps me to “not be content” as I gain years and (hopefully) wisdom. In the future, I hope myself and all Villanovans are driven by discontent to continue to learn what they do not know yet, love those that they do not love yet, and become who they are not yet. After all, what else can we do?
Teaching During the Pandemic: Interview with an Honors Alum
by Viktoria Kall '22
I recently had the opportunity to interview one of the many successful Villanova Honors College alumni, Robert McNamara ’08 CLAS, ’12 MA. Robert is currently in his sixth year as an English teacher for grades 11 and 12 in the Jenkintown School District, about a half hour from Villanova’s campus. I wanted to not only hear about Robert’s experience in the Honors Program and how that may be impactful on his life as a teacher, but also the toils of being an educator during the times of COVID.
Originally from Maple Glen, Pennsylvania, Robert graduated from Villanova in 2008 with a Philosophy major and Sociology minor. He returned to receive his Master’s in Education from Villanova in 2012. On top of his career successes as a teacher, as well as coaching high school football and middle school basketball, Robert is also the father of a newborn baby with his wife who he met at Villanova! When asked what his favorite aspect about being in the Honors Program was, Robert gushed as he reminisced on how influential the experience was throughout his four years in Villanova undergrad.
“It was hugely impactful for me,” he said.
“I would say that in the teaching I do now, I do my best to emulate that experience that I got in the Villanova Honors Program. I think the biggest thing for me is that being in the Honors Program taught me to love big ideas and intellectual thought. All throughout high school I got good grades and did everything I needed to do, but I can't say that I loved school or ever thought about school in my free time. Because of the Honors Program, though, and the professors and interactions I had, for the first time ever on a Friday night I was talking with friends about something we had talked about in class that week.”
Understandably, the “new normal” of the pandemic is not the way Robert had envisioned his teaching career to go. When the pandemic hit, there were a myriad of adjustments that needed to be made in order to account for the health and safety of students and staff alike, including the incorporation of an online classroom. Currently, Robert teaches a hybrid model, where students attend some class sessions in person, and others virtually.
When asked about the adjustments he has made, he said, “I think the biggest adjustment this year has been two things actually. One is just trying to build a sense of community with a class, especially when it is a hybrid format. Trying to run a seminar discussion and build a sense of classroom identity and community has definitely been a goal of mine. This environment has made it trickier and more challenging than usual. For me, the promise I made to my students in the beginning of this school year was I was going to try to make their experience in my class as
close as possible to a normal school year. I wanted to give them some feeling of normalcy, not like a special COVID curriculum.”
Despite grandiose efforts, it is arguable that this new style has had a negative impact on some students. Robert stated that as a result of this hybrid teaching model, he feels as though the gap between students who do well and students who struggle has widened. Those that more heavily depend on in-person interaction with their teachers or need extra guidance to stay on task and keep up with assignments, now lack that instruction that proves to be so key to their learning and overall success in school.
Nevertheless, there are still aspects of this new “virtual” classroom that Robert has come to appreciate, such as the ability and ease of virtual parent-teacher conferences. Despite this, in Robert’s eyes, the negatives are still outweighing the positives, and he makes it incredibly clear that he hopes things will one day be able to go back to “normal.”
According to Robert, “Something that I've been kind of big on is that this is not a teaching style that I want to get very good at. One thing you can definitely take away from Honors is that being in a classroom with people is essential. I do not want this to be any sort of a permanent mode.”