Authentic Eagles: Ryan Shannon on Passion

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic.

Ryan Shannon, A&S ’15

At Boston College we are told to “follow our hearts” and to “go set the world aflame,” and to engage with these phrases as a way to discern vocation. But I have always wrestled with the question, well, how does one actually do this? I came to BC with a tunnel vision view of what I wanted to be: a doctor. Some students know right at the beginning that they want to become a doctor and follow through with med school, but I was not one of those students. I had every intention of being the best in my science classes and going off to med school to pursue a modest career doing doctors without borders. I never anticipated BC to alter my vocational path and to bring out the best in me through it’s mission and dedication to the phrase, “setting the world aflame.”

There is a difference between doing what our minds think we should be doing vs. doing what our hearts tell us we should be doing. As a former pre-med student, I fell into the trap of “this is where I am needed and this is where I need to be.” Enrolling as pre-med was not a senseless decision, I thought that I carefully deliberated and used my joy and past experiences to guide my decision-making.

In High School, I would travel to Valle de Angeles, Honduras, an impoverished community in the rural tropical mountains, with my Aunt Pat on medical mission trips. I enjoyed the experience of working alongside her in a chaotic environment consisting of checking the statuses of patients in rural villages, giving out toys, cough medicine, and prescriptions, as well as playing soccer with the children in open schoolyards. The level of care and hospitality my Aunt showed to her patients was inspiring and I found myself wanting to give back in the same way she does, showing her love and passion through her work.

My college essay told the compelling stories of my travels in Honduras and my desire to save the world by becoming a doctor to give back to the poor and the impoverished and I was accepted to Boston College as a Biology major, pre-medical concentration. I was excited, telling everyone before I left for school that Ryan Shannon was going to become Dr. Shannon. As a result, I enrolled in the pre-med classes.  However, like many other pre-med students before me, I quickly realized that my brain did not have the desire to memorize how a cell operates, or how RNA and DNA differentiate, or to learn the steps of metabolic cycles and processes.

As disinterested as I was, however, I continued my pre-med track until my sophomore year in college; I was too proud and caught up in the idea of my experiences in the medical field that had led me towards this one goal. I felt lost and confused and I found my inspiration and passion fading. As a result, my grades suffered as I put all of my energy into making friends and running organizations and having conversations with mentors and administrators.

My failure being a science major forced me to reassess why I decided to be a doctor in the first place. During the summer months leading into my junior year I decided to make the world stop and to look at the big picture of my life and what I was doing with it. Where was I finding joy at BC? Where was I living out my passion for life?

My vocational path was altered after witnessing the passion that my boss exemplified last year in Duchesne Hall. My RD, Jenna Sattar, is by far the most caring, dedicated, enthusiastic, joyful, humble, self-giving human being I have met at Boston College. I can distinctly see the heart she puts into her work everyday. She works with residents, does programming, runs the Perspectives Residential Living and Learning Program and is a mentor and supervisor for her RA staff. I have been amazed and captivated by how Jenna treats her job as an extension of herself.

I mention Jenna because she is a burst of refreshing light, exemplifying the concept of living out one’s passion, and because of my positive experiences as an RA for 32 incredible and inspiring freshmen guys. As an RA I enjoyed creating projects and educating my residents through conversation and programming as well as through my own actions. I did this because I wanted the best for my residents and I wanted to make sure they felt comfortable being themselves at Boston College.

One night, in the beginning of the year, I woke up to a knock on my door in Duchesne Hall. Feeling a little disoriented, I got out of bed and wandered to the door to find my resident frantically needing to tell me something. He had been sent to the hospital earlier that evening and he wanted to let me know that he made it back to the dorm okay, that he was safe and not to worry. I think this was a moment that made me realize what an essential part I could play in someone’s life as an RA. I felt like I was being an older brother, and this inspired me to develop the relationships and build stronger community on my floor. I wanted my guys to feel comfortable telling me anything that was going on in their lives. Eventually, this is what inspired me to lead a retreat for my floor later that year.

The moments that I feel most alive is when I am with my closest friends, engaging in conversation, leading a group to Exmore or El Salvador, going to Guatemala with friends that have become family. I feel alive when I am speaking publicly to an audience, walking through campus and giving hugs to old friends and grabbing coffee with a friend from freshman year. I feel most at peace when I am engaging with people. As human beings, we are all created drastically different and I think there’s so much to be learned about each other. I think this is really exciting.

Being with others through the best of times, through suffering, through their successes and their failures, this is my path towards fulfillment. Living out my passions every day on the BC campus, I am reminded of the immense privilege it is to be here and to be surrounded by some of the world’s greatest and brightest minds. Like a fire burning within my heart, my passion grows through conversation and working as a community to make this world a better, safer, and happier place for people to live in.

I never lost my passion for serving others in Honduras or around the world; however, these feelings of serving others have been reshaped and refined in new ways. As I apply to grad programs in Higher Education and look at the prospect of working at a college institution, I keep in mind my desire to serve others. Now, instead of service in the context of Honduras, I see service in becoming a mentor within the confines of a residence hall and a college environment. A phrase that I repeat to myself nearly every day is the quote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” It is a blessing to be able to reinvent my answer each day just by being alive and listening to my heart’s next destination.