A Transformative College Experience
Loyola provides so much more than an exceptional education grounded in the liberal arts
Abby Vitaliano, ’17
When you’re 18 years old and headed to college, there are a lot of things you don’t know.
There are as many, if not more, things you think you know.
I can vividly remember picturing what Loyola would be like for me before I attended my first-year orientation. My mind was filled with a never-ending list of expectations: what my roommates would be like, what types of classes I would take, what major I would choose, what clubs I would join. The list went on and on.
I created expectations about the person I thought I would become, even though I wasn’t sure why I wanted to become her.
These expectations led me to make choices—some small, some large, all significant pieces of my Loyola experience. What I know now that I didn’t know then is that you can’t pinpoint the choices and individual moments that have the power to change your life until after they’ve already transformed you.
Looking back, I see that during my first semester at Loyola, I did not take advantage of all my university had to offer. I didn’t pay much attention to the Jesuit values that were ever-present in my life on campus; I didn’t make the most of my time as a student living in Baltimore.
Then I made a single choice that completely altered my path: I joined the Office of Student Engagement’s orientation program and became an Evergreen. Through this experience, I met a mentor, Sara Scalzo, and she helped me grow in ways I never knew I could. I attended trainings that expanded my leadership skills, improved my communication abilities, and allowed me to build relationships with my peers—many of whom are the type of friends you keep for a lifetime.
I was suddenly in a perpetual mindset where I valued the magis and was inspired to be a woman for and with others. I began to understand how to be the best version of myself—and then to exceed that, I prioritized my health, physically, mentally and spiritually, and I began to recognize the ways I was called to act as a person for others.
As an Evergreen, I grew a skill set and confidence that ultimately furthered my personal growth while also benefiting others. This single opportunity and role on campus led me to continue to choose more and strive to be more. The skills and the confidence I gained transcended to courage. That courage led me to feel comfortable seeking different kinds of opportunities…
I began volunteering in the Baltimore community at Beans and Bread and gained a deep understanding, perhaps for the first time in my life, that part of our humanity includes serving those around us. I worked with my Messina team to ensure our students experienced Baltimore and its wonderful neighborhoods. I boarded a plane to Rome for the semester of a lifetime to live with a family that did not speak a language I spoke. Through each of these choices, I was redefining my comfort zone.
Some of these pieces started falling into place in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Being at Loyola and living in Baltimore fostered me into becoming the best version of myself, a version I knew I could be proud of. I discovered an academic major I was passionate about. I forged meaningful relationships with friends I now consider family. I discovered a city I would come to love—and choose to move to and work for after graduation.
I felt inspired in a way I hadn’t before. I began to truly believe I could be a catalyst for change if I wanted to.
Before I knew it, I was a senior taking my final PR Capstone with one of the most compassionate and caring professors I had ever encountered at Loyola, Dr. Pascual-Ferra. She became a career mentor, helping me land an internship for my second semester—but her role in my life at Loyola went far beyond the description of a professor. She invested her time in my work, supported me in my roles outside of the classroom, guided me as I was defining my goals and my career trajectory and, most importantly, really cared about me as a person.
During Jesuit Heritage Week of my final semester at Loyola, it all clicked. Father Gregory Boyle, S.J., presented “Jobs Not Jails” and detailed his work with gang intervention. He stated that boundless compassion and the relationships between people were the foundation of the change he had instrumented.
I felt inspired in a way I hadn’t before. I began to truly believe I could be a catalyst for change if I wanted to. My view of changing the world or making a difference was no longer a lofty or far-stretched belief; I was no longer the 18-year-old version of myself imaging what I could be. That day (and all the days since) I existed as a version of myself that exceeded the expectations I did not even know I could have.
I have Loyola to thank.
Loyola is not like any other university or college experience. I think about all the people at Loyola with whom I forged critical relationships, people who helped me move forward along the way, and it is no wonder that I am not who I was when I started.
Loyola is lifelong friends that share too many memories to count. Loyola is mentors like Sara Scalzo who you can talk openly with about anything—personal, professional, academic—knowing you have a listening ear from someone with your best interest at heart. Loyola is professors like Paola Pascual-Ferra who instill all their incredible wisdom and experience in their students—and then even take your picture from the stage when you cross it at Commencement. And Loyola is Baltimore, a city that welcomes all and wants us all to be ourselves, whoever we are, and find a place to call home.