A graduating senior reflects on how Creighton changed him

May 08, 2020 By Micah Mertes

Patrick Fenner is graduating with a degree in theology and secondary education. Currently working as a student teacher at Roncalli Catholic, Patrick will continue his studies this summer with plans of becoming a Jesuit.

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Creighton is a community that focuses heavily on a different kind of success. You leave Creighton a different person and a better person than when you came in.

Patrick Fenner
Patrick Fenner BA'20

Patrick Fenner, BA'20, is a senior graduating on May 16 with a degree in theology and secondary education. Currently working as a student teacher at Roncalli Catholic, Patrick will continue his studies this summer with plans of becoming a Jesuit. 

So this semester. How about this semester?

It’s been very different, to say the least.

I’m from Omaha, so I’m hanging out here. I’m back with my parents and siblings. It’s been good. It’s interesting to see where everybody is at. 

What’s your final bit of coursework been like?

It’s been interesting. The coursework has all been pretty much the same. You do miss out on that kind of personal connection you make with the people in the different classes, as well as the discussion that forms around being together and having the ability to see different points of view. 

You can’t replace that discussion that comes about naturally. It’s challenging, especially, with theology and philosophy. It’s tricky. It doesn’t quite feel the same when you’re video conferencing. 

What do you miss most about being on campus?

I miss having those happenstance interactions where you run into somebody you haven’t talked to in a while and strike up a conversation about whatever.

Now, you’re talking to the same people every day, just being at home, and there’s not that kind of changeup, that energy that comes from being on campus. 

Not being able to walk in person at commencement stinks, no question. But, I don’t know if this is positive, but your class of 2020, whether high school or college, you’re a historic class. You guys will forever be known as the class that didn’t get to walk. You’re a part of this generation-defining moment. I’m not sure that’s any consolation but …

Being able to gain that kind of perspective on how unique our situation is, it doesn’t make it better, but it does make it easier to deal with. It’s something I’ll never forget, not being able to walk at graduation. 

It’s an odd way to end a semester and a college career. But it also lends itself to appreciating even more the time we did have on campus. Just all the things you take for granted every day are now gone and over. 

You plan to continue your studies to become a Jesuit. Was that something you knew you wanted to do when you first came to Creighton? 

It was something I had considered, but I wasn’t sure. My family has a long history with Creighton and Jesuit education. My grandfather graduated from Creighton. My mom graduated from Creighton. My brother goes to Chicago Loyola, and my cousin goes to Fordham. 

So you knew what Jesuit education was. What about your Creighton education has been of great value to you personally?

The really important thing that Jesuit education does well is emphasized in cura personalis. That value is the lifeblood of Creighton and any other Jesuit university or school. The care that people build for each other.

I chose Creighton because of the Jesuit values and Jesuit education perspective, but also the atmosphere, which was very different than what I’d experienced on other campus tours and from what I had heard of other people’s experiences in college. 

It stuck out to me, the way people interacted on the mall or the way they connected with each other in Skutt, the conversation and the obvious connectedness of everyone. 

That lends itself to a strong education but also a very complete education. It’s one thing to teach someone about math or about science or biology or business or whatever it may be. But when you’re in those classes, it’s not just about what grade you’re getting on the assignments. It goes a lot deeper. There’s a very obvious sense of commitment and care that you receive from your professors, who show you that they are genuinely invested not only in what you’re doing now but what you are going to do with it later.

There’s that strong sense of “paying it forward.”

Yes, and it’s about more than how this class impacts your level of knowledge in your field down the road; it’s about how it shapes you and allows you to grow to become a better person.

There’s a strong emphasis on how you can take what you learn and apply it to whatever field you can go into and create change and serve the world and the people in need through whatever road you end up going down.

It’s that liberal arts idea of a well-rounded education, all these things interconnecting. Creighton takes that and makes it more personal, asks how you can take what you’re learning and create a positive impact in the world. 

At what point in your Creighton education did you realize that you wanted to get the “SJ” at the end of your name?

Yeah, I just saw a lot of really interesting people who were Jesuits. They all have very unique personalities. You can go down the list of Jesuits at Creighton, Jesuits everywhere, and they’re all doing different things, but they are all focused toward the same goal. 

I really appreciate the idea that you don’t have to do one thing to make an impact. The ability the Jesuits have to tap into a person’s skills and abilities and allow them to grow … I found that really enticing.

You could sit down with five Jesuits and have five very different but extremely interesting and meaningful conversations. That was my experience and still is today. At Creighton, there’s a wide range of people with a wide range of interests and specialties. But they all have an openness and warmth and joy that seems to be consistent across the board.

Do you hope to be a professor at a Jesuit university someday? 

I don’t know. I’ve always thought about it. But if I’m not a professor at a university, I definitely do want to teach high school.

When I came to Creighton, I was looking into business. But as I was going through classes my freshman year, I decided to switch to the education department. 

Jesuit education had a lot to do with that. It showed me the impact that teachers and professors can have on their students and the very direct and immediate kind of growth that you get to see in students, how those values that you instill in them and knowledge you pass on to them allows them to develop and form their own ideas and own way of doing things as they’re propelled into the world.

Alright, this is a big question I’ve been asking people these days. It’s the “elevator pitch” question. Say down the road you met a student and their family. They were considering Creighton. Why should they choose Creighton? What makes a Jesuit education special? 

What I would tell that family is that a Jesuit education is one in which there’s a unique level of care and interest, but not only in your material success. Not only, Are you going to go out and make a six-figure salary when you graduate? But also on your personal and spiritual success. 

To me, that’s the defining characteristic of a Creighton education and a Jesuit education in general. There’s this whole community of people who care about you succeeding as a human being, so that you can go out and do what you can to improve the world.

That’s why it’s special. It’s a community that focuses heavily on a different kind of success.

You leave Creighton a different person and a better person than when you came in.