At Marquette University, mission is everything. Mission is, or should be, the reason behind every major decision made by every office on campus. It is, and should be, what drives this University to become the very best that it can be. Especially this time of year, mission takes on a new meaning. It transcends the ambiguous and becomes a concrete reality in the form a week geared towards celebrating what it means to be Marquette University.
Every year, Mission Week offers Marquette administrators, faculty, staff, students and members of the Milwaukee community a chance to evaluate the meaning and impact of Marquette’s mission on the world around us. It allows the abstractness of “mission” to take on a more practical and vocalized meaning, and in doing so, allows this Mission Week to motivate students in a special and unique way. Past Mission Weeks have included a wide diversity of speakers from a variety of different backgrounds, mostly centered on social justice issues.
This year, the many Mission Week activities seemed to focus on enriching student’s minds with diverse perspectives, and providing programs and lectures whose intent was ethical decision-making and acknowledgement of one’s impact on others. iAct, the theme of this year’s Mission Week, implies that students play a very active role in the definition and formation of Marquette’s mission on a daily basis.
According to Rev. Douglas Leonhardt S.J., of Marquette’s Office of Mission and Identity, “The Mission of Marquette as a Catholic Jesuit University is what gives us our deepest identity. Stepping back and focusing on our mission can make us more aware of what really defines us as Marquette.”
One major challenge to the continued success of Mission Week is keeping it fresh and dynamic. To counter this, Leonhardt says, “Mission Week gets tweaked each year so that the activities and programs stay fresh, attract more participants, and help people reflect on the pillars of: faith, excellence, leadership and service. Each year the planning committee has many new members from the student body, faculty, administrators and staff, so new ideas emerge.” Leonhardt continued to say that he hopes that all students are able to take advantage of Mission Week events, as it is a very special time for the University as a whole.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Shirin Ebadi, was poised, seemed well spoken (although the whole speech was translated), and had a very direct message for the Marquette community. To Mara Branli, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, “it was really pretty simple for me: she is not afraid to dream…but she is truthful in that our dreams cannot stay in our imaginations, we must bring them into reality through action.”
For freshman Scott Luke, College of Business, “I think it was really neat to witness a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. It is always interesting to hear someone not native to the U.S. give a perspective of what other nations globally think of the U.S. and its policies. Dr. Ebadi had a great message and profound messages about Islam and human rights.”
Those who were in attendance seemed truly interested and open to what Ebadi was saying, however due to the reactions of many in attendance it seemed that the opinions of the crowd were congruent with those of the speaker. Perhaps this is another reason why a wider variety of student tickets should have been made available, to ensure a greater diversity of students. An event attended by just as many, if not more, middle-aged attendees as students does not provide members of the Marquette student body with the opportunity to learn, or be exposed to new ideas. In fact, the erupting applause and standing ovation that occurred after her praise of President Obama demonstrated that many in the audience really enjoyed having their own personal beliefs ratified.
Whatever one’s personal political stance or viewpoint of Ebadi is, it is hard to deny her ability to inspire. One particularly touching moment was when Ebadi exclaimed, “Non-Democratic Islamic governments don’t hold the key to Heaven; suicidal operations will not take you to Heaven. The framework of Democracy is human rights laws… [and] weapons such as religion and ideology should not be in the hands of the government.” Her sentiment echoed through the room as her translator relayed the message to everyone in the ballrooms, and it became evident that no matter how negatively she views the previous U.S. administration, Ebadi is truly passionate for human rights.
One disappointing feature of the event is that Ebadi did not stick around for a panel discussion or question and answer segment following her keynote. It would have been interesting to hear her publically expand on her wide political stance on some of her more polarizing views, especially those towards the former President Bush and U.S. intervention abroad. Regardless, a successful Mission Week needs a successful keynote speaker, and has been the case in the past, the keynote did not fail to get people talking.
One problem this year’s Mission Week faced is that many students were unable to attend the Mission Week keynote, either due to the time it was planned for, or poor ticket distribution schemes. Either way, Mission Week continues to be evaluated, that it might be implemented better next year. A few suggestions have been raised for improving Mission Week here at Marquette by students, staff and faculty alike.
In evaluating Mission Week as a whole, Leonhardt says, “There are the two major events of Mission Week, the Mass on Sunday and the keynote speaker, which are always well attended. But some of the other events during the week, which are well planned, but poorly attended, need evaluation.” In reference to these events, Leonhardt reflects, “perhaps they need to be changed or dropped entirely. We do an evaluation after Mission Week each year, during which we ask questions about numbers attending and whether they accomplished their goal of bringing people together and focusing on a particular aspect of our mission.”
Many people noticed a discrepancy between the amounts of faculty, staff and administrators present and the number of students. In a random polling it was concluded that, for the vast majority of students, the time of the event was the major deterrent.
Mike Hennicke, a junior in the College of Education, said of Mission Week, “I went to the last Mission Week speaker. Sadly, I would have loved to go [this year], but 4 p.m. on a Thursday? I had class and a meeting.” Scheduling was the issue for seniors Brandon Rindfleisch, Arts & Sciences, and Greg Shutters, Communication, as well as many others who had prior academic commitments that afternoon.
Further, many students are not fully aware of what Mission Week is. They know that there is something outside of the ordinary going on, but never take the initiative to learn more. The Mission Week planning committee also faces the challenge of raising awareness and interest among the student body.
The challenge of an event such as Mission Week is to ask members of the Marquette community, what does “mission” mean to your identity? At a Catholic University, the question changes slightly: What does “mission” mean to my relationship with Christ? This challenge to students and faculty stands as a constant reminder of a lesson learned by many at a Tuesday night 10 p.m. Mass two years ago. When showing off the beauty of the chapel one night, Rev. John Naus S.J. pointed to the arm-less Jesus (lost during a bombing in WWII), which hangs on the back wall of the St. Joan of Arc Chapel. According to Fr. Naus, “we are all called to be the arms of Christ reaching out to the Marquette community, to those who need us.”
Perhaps rather than searching out a great keynote speaker, we need only look to the people we have right here at Marquette to learn something about being men and women for others. After all, what would Mission Week be if it were simply one week? Mission Week, at Marquette, should be every week.