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Authentic Eagles: Corbin Bernal on Community

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 toward being more authentic individuals.

Corbin Bernal, CSOM '23

Community is the most important aspect of our lives. It reflects what and who we care about, the type of people we are trying to become or solidify, and it is what gets us out of bed in the morning. Community is a word that is thrown around often, as we try and attempt to put a descriptive word that somehow embodies our feelings of being a part of various groups of people and networks of peers in our everyday lives. We search for communities in every aspect of our life, and they come to us in many different forms.

For the entirety of our life, communities shape and transform us both knowingly and unknowingly. Growing up, our idea of community is dictated by family dynamics, classmates, and extracurricular activities. While these continue in high school and college we also develop rich and personal deep communities with friend groups, significant others, and mentors. Just as we feel most comfortable with the way that these have been formed, we are whisked away to college where we are forced to start over again in our search for these groups of love and acceptance. This is also where we are challenged for the first time to maintain connection with those people from our earlier stages in life that we want to continue to have moving forward. It is the recognition that not everyone will continue with us from those periods of our life that is most difficult to grapple with at first. Looking back, we can always think of people who were influential during a period of our life, who cemented lasting memories and fun moments. But, and this may be difficult to deal with, some people are only meant to exist within that moment of our life. We can’t take everyone from high school or college with us afterwards, and that’s okay. As we get older and start to branch out more, we have to put our effort into those smaller number of relationships we want to keep around and we have to be appreciative of those who we can't keep in touch with. 

Now, I know this might read as somewhat dramatic. I just graduated from BC and am standing on the precipice of more change in my own life, so this might just be a stream of consciousness reflective of my current life experience. Regardless, the point I want to emphasize is that for the relationships which we can’t maintain as well as the ones we can, we must wish people well in their own journeys and commit to helping them if the situation ever arises. 

Communities can start when we least expect them too, which is part of the joy of allowing ourselves to be immersed in the richness of life and all of the opportunities afforded to us. I remember receiving my acceptance letter to BC, getting the email notification as I was pulling out of the driveway to head to a soccer game. My nerves were already roaring because of the game, but the anticipation of waiting to view the letter attached in the email as it loaded exacerbated them even more. As my eyes found that keyword, “Congratulations,” I jumped out of the car and celebrated with my mom. My excitement could not be contained, and I immediately started thinking about what life would look like in a new city with new people. Fast forward four months later, I found the courage to reach out to somebody from a BC Class of 2023 Instagram post to talk to them about rooming together. After a few weeks of talking, we decided to go for it. A random guy from Minnesota named Keith, turned out to be a person I lived with for my first year of college and has been one of my best friends since. What started out as a conversation about sports and our expectations of BC turned into an amazing relationship that I cherish close to my heart. There is something special about the relationship you cultivate with your first roommate in college, as you experience a lot of “firsts” of college together. We experienced plenty of those, and cherished them too. Looking back, I am glad we allowed ourselves to really enjoy being first year students together, and with our friends. The only regret I have is that the year was cut short because of the pandemic. But, life happens and I wouldn’t trade anything for that experience with Keith. 

Along with Keith, I also was put into a new community with 40 other freshmen guys on our floor in Williams Hall. I barely knew anyone heading into BC, and so I was both excited and nervous to live with a completely new group of people. It is hard to explain how impactful that living situation was for me, and I often find immense joy and fondness in thinking back to all the memories that year left us. I knew it would be a good time when Keane was dancing on a table in the basement on the first weekend there, Zack and John offering up their screen projector to watch movies on the ceiling, and Kyle and Alex being the fun and outgoing highschool friends-now-roommates from Philly. We had every corner of the map represented, and we were better for it. It’s one thing having a great floor during your freshman year, and it is another when you are the only group of freshmen on CoRo at BC. We embraced that identity and I think it made us bond even closer. Looking back on my time at BC, I felt that a lot of those guys I “grew up” with during college. Most of us remained good friends and lived together in some combination throughout the entirety of our time at BC. As COVID impacted our sophomore years and dynamics changed with living situations and other friendships, that group of Williams guys remained constant. As we returned to Williams on the night of the last day of classes (which is one of BC’s best traditions in my opinion), there was something special about walking back up there with 30 guys who have remained a consistent and meaningful part of the whirlwind of the last four years. 

Another important distinction to understand as we traverse through different communities in our lives is the fact that they can be both positive and life-giving, as well as negative and detrimental. Healthy communities are those that we feel respected, heard, and loved by everyone in the group. They pick us up when we are down, and celebrate with us in our joys and triumphs. They are also communities that are able to have constructive conversations about serious topics. Whether these conversations are from personal experiences or societal issues, they are necessary and important to discuss in a way that is not discriminatory or unemotional. This is often unforgotten as a necessary part of a healthy community, but it is absolutely vital to foster this type of environment whenever we can.

Outside of my friends, the best example of one of these types of communities I have been a part of at BC was the Arrupe International Immersion program. This past academic year, I was fortunate enough to be a Student Leader and led a trip that was originally planned for Peru but ended up going to El Salvador. Within this larger community, I experienced two distinct groups of community that have formed me in so many ways that I will forever hold on to. First, was the group of 10 student leaders who I met with once a week along with the director of the program, Emily Egan, and two graduate assistants for the program. The intentional space we created was the most empathetic, empowering, and loving environment that I have been a part of in terms of leadership. We quickly bonded as a group, recognizing that the best way to create the most effective space for us was by being our most authentic self every week. In this, we built a community that is vulnerable and honest, sharing in both the struggles and triumphs of not only leadership, but of our entire lives. Some of us were better at handling things than others, and vice versa, and having a space to give advice and to walk alongside each other was so beautiful. It all started with Emily’s leadership at the top, which guided us to create this type of environment with our own small groups. Within our leadership group, we all brought something unique to the team that I carried in my heart to my small group and just generally with me as a person in every aspect of my life. Whether it was Devin’s wisdom and strength, Paula’s laugh and genuine joy, Paco’s wholesome outlook on life, or Malaki’s efficacious smile (I am definitely leaving so much out, I could write about them forever), I was so incredibly touched by each of them in ways that translated to my own life. I am an immensely better person for having each of them in my life. 

The other genuine community was the one that was built within my own small group, as we initially came together as strangers and ended up being so incredibly close that created beautiful relationships that extended beyond our trip to El Salvador. All of the ups and downs of each person, throughout the entire year, was processed as a group and we all worked together to help lift each other up and celebrate the good news of others. Being authentic and genuine is something that is so important to our lives, and fuels our hearts and minds to be committed to exploring those types of relationships no matter where we end up and no matter what we do. One of the best parts about the Arrupe program is meeting people from other parts of campus that know that same people from your small group, as it allows you to cherish the presence of that person in both of your lives and to know that the amazing people within the community share their gifts with a wide variety of people at BC. 

The Arrupe program also highlights the importance of building community with those not geographically close to us. My small group traveled to El Salvador for 10 days, where we stayed with an organization from there and met people throughout the country, listening to their stories of life, loss, struggle, love, and perseverance. The purpose of the program is to listen to these stories and understand how they relate to our own lives, so that we can build a better understanding of the role we play as students at BC, citizens of the U.S., and generally just as human beings. Having gone to El Salvador twice now, the stories of others and the memories we made with them will forever be ingrained in my heart, and I think back to these moments often when I think about who I want to be as a person and how I understand the ways in which I can affect change in my own life. Just because I was there two times does not mean that the community we built stays there in that confined space. True community is knowing that my time there is not limited to that experience, and that the community and relationships we built together will last forever.

All of these experiences highlight the idea of finitude of actual experience, but infinitude of community. I no longer occupy Room 113 of Williams Hall, nor do I hold any official capacity within the Arrupe program, and I am not even an undergraduate student at Boston College anymore. However, the relationships and communities I have built and experienced during all of those moments still live within me. While Keith and I don’t live in that room together, hanging out with him and the other Williams guys brings back the core foundations of our friendships and time spent together there. While Paco and I might not be cracking jokes after an Arrupe meeting or having an immensely rich and emotional conversation outside the National Cathedral in downtown San Salvador, seeing him around campus brings me back to those memories we share knowing they will forever live in my heart. And while I am no longer attending BC, I live my life now with the core experiences and memories that have shaped me into the person I am and guide me towards the person I want to be.

It is also important for us to take away bits and pieces of each experience to help guide our decisions moving forward. We must recognize what we liked, what we didn’t, what worked, and what we can improve on to help inform our process of understanding the new roles and responsibilities we take on as we transition into new communities. While it is not always clear to us right away, reflecting back upon each experience is vital to understanding this process. Seeing people in passing from my Arrupe experiences ignites a deep emotional love and care for them and the role they played in my life. Whether or not that relationship continues, seeing them will always evoke a core memory deep within our hearts that only we share. The same goes for those we have had classes or been in the same clubs as. And that’s one of the wonderful things about communities and experiences. Only those that we share the experience with can know the full extent of what it meant to us, and there is something so special and human about that.

Communities come and go in our life. Some stay forever, others are there for a mere matter of months. It is what we do within that space, and what we take away from it that matters. In addition to this, we also build appreciation for those communities and people who have helped us grow into the people we desire to be, and we become thankful for their influence and presence in our lives, regardless of how long it may have lasted. While there are some communities that we wish would stay forever, life doesn’t work that way. Regardless, my biggest piece of advice is to love, and love endlessly and fearlessly. It is within love that we can connect with people in the most authentic way possible, and it opens our heart to an endless amount of experiences and possibilities. To love is to live, and this is our strongest calling as humans. 

Phoenix born and raised. Lover of politics, coffee, and a panini presser from Eagles Nest. Bubble Suns are the best team in NBA history.