For our recent spirit week, one of our themed days was “Dressing in Past Decades.” Students were asked to dress like teens did in the 1950’s, 60’s, or 70’s, depending on their class year. Staff were invited to participate as well, so I found the best polyester shirt and 70’s-looking sport coat I could and got in the spirit! I felt odd wearing those clothes, mostly because they just weren’t my style. It wasn’t me. I chose to get out of my “comfort zone” though, to stretch myself, and try something new, even though it wasn’t the most comfortable choice of wardrobe. (I got really warm in the polyester!) The payoff would be there though…even a president can have a little fun!
At Cristo Rey Jesuit, we often ask our students to leave their comfort zones, in ways much more significant than my trivial wardrobe concern, for a much larger payoff. I am sure they feel awkward, odd, funny, or even anxious as they experience the world in new ways. They are asked to put on a tie and go to a professional workplace when some have never worked before; speak to a college representative about the college experience they’ve yet to encounter; share their faith and relationship with God with peers and staff members; perform service for a non-profit organization helping people they’ve never met. And the list continues!
I am always impressed that despite how uncomfortable students might feel doing all we’ve asked outside of their comfort zone, the vast majority persist. I believe this is largely attributable to our staff members who create a space where risk, success, and failure are posited as learning opportunities. Students grow in confidence and trust that with each step outside their comfort zone, a staff member will be there to step with them. This is also because of our students, themselves, and their desire deep down to take advantage of opportunities that come their way. With parents or supportive adults in their lives, students begin to understand that in order to grow, they need to try new and different activities, experiences, and intellectual challenges. In order to fully develop to their potential, students learn they cannot cling solely to the familiar. As president, I try to remember this too! Every time I experience nervousness, discomfort, or anxiety about trying (or wearing) something new, I grow as a person and professional and call to mind what we ask our students to do.
I am keenly aware of the trust that students have in our staff and our program. They come to Cristo Rey Jesuit ready to do what it takes, even if their actions take them out of their comfort zone. On a daily basis, they practice being open to growth, one of our Jesuit Grad at Graduation values. And I am inspired to do the same – even in a 70’s-looking polyester shirt.
– Andrew Stith