Become who you are

Become who you are April 7, 2015

UCA News offers a compelling story of Rusty Quintana, a once-homeless boy who graduated from Jesuit-run Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines. Reflecting on his journey, Rusty told a reporter for UCA News of what it takes to do what he did.

You don’t need money to get off. You need a mountain of desire to get off the street.

His story involved fleeing from an unsafe home and living off coins begged from people outside the gates of the university. He lived in and out of shelters; got involved in crime; went to prison; and lived without purpose or direction.

What changed him was a 2007 art exhibit, “East Meets West,” which featured the sculptural creations of England-born but Cagayan de Oro-based artist Gary Spiers and the soil paintings of Cagayanon Rhyan Casiño. Of that exhibit, Rusty recalled “I saw the paintings and sculpture and it captured my imagination.” Casiño went on to mentor Rusty, who helped Casiño to found Dire Husi Initiatives, dedicated to indigenous art. (The Visayan phrase means “here friend.”)

The experience was transformative. The UCA News story picks up the thread:

One day in 2009, Rusty put on a tattered shirt and his best pair of faded pants and queued up outside the university for a chance to interview for college. His long hair and worn clothes made him an anomaly, but they didn’t dampen the impression he made.

Six years later, on March 28, Rusty marched out of the university gates with a diploma in Development Communication.

The story goes on:

It was not smooth sailing. While studying, he worked to pay for food, books, and other school requirements. But the street kid survived and thrived, continuing his art and excelling.

Rhyan said Rusty’s life is a “testament to the power of the art as a transformation tool”.

What’s more, Rusty has become a light to others.

“Art for me is a healing process. It has healed me, and it is peaceful,” Rusty said, adding that he does not forget where he came from. He still spends time with street children in Cagayan de Oro. 

The former street kid is now talking to other children, encouraging them to get off the streets. Some of his contemporaries are going back to school while two others have also finished college.

Three points are worth amplifying in this already-inspiring story. One is that Rusty’s story illustrates something at the heart of Catholic education, namely the faith that God has created us to do some good in the world, and that education is a means to discovering what it is. The second is rooted in the spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who in the Spiritual Exercises counseled that we use our imagination to discern what that good might be. The history of Jesuit education shows particular emphasis on the arts, in large part because of the way that art can provoke in us new ways of imagining ourselves and the world. The third point to highlight is the fact that education is a form of distributive justice, enabling Rusty to more fully participate in and contribute to the common good.

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