Whenever I hear the Marquette mantra “Be the Difference” I think of James Foley. The tragedy of his death came the summer before I arrived at Marquette, so I heard a lot about who he was throughout my first year on campus. Being a Marquette student connected me to the late alumnus, but his journalism career allowed me to relate to him on a different level. The story of his life was a frequent topic of conversation in my journalism classes, and last week, I had the opportunity to speak with his parents, John and Diane Foley.
To me, James Foley was the difference. For those who don’t know, Foley majored in history at Marquette, and upon graduating he began a career with Teach for America to educate inner-city students in Phoenix, Arizona. He eventually decided to get a journalism education and cover conflict zones as a freelance writer. Foley did all things with passion.
A common theme among the articles that I have written for the Wire has been passion, finding something you love and doing it. I think that being the difference is less about being and more about doing.
People seem to spend a lot of energy trying to explain who they are and what they care about, but being the difference doesn’t require explanation for who you are because it is already evident in the things that you do.
That’s not to say you have to go out and change the world in order to be the difference, but rather, the small things you do on a daily basis should emulate the simple idea of being the difference.
There’s a post I see a lot on Facebook about an anthropology professor telling his students this: “you all have a little bit of ‘I want to save the world’ in you, that’s why you’re here, in college. I want you to know that it’s okay if you only save one person, and it’s okay if that person is you.”
Being the difference is being comfortable enough with how you live your life, being OK with the impact you have on the world, even if that world is just your own small circle of people.
It’s a unique and beautiful trait to be naive enough to think you can change the world, but mature enough to understand that the world you change might only be your own.
Thinking back to James Foley, I think he lived his life realizing that he had the ability to impact others, but he concerned himself with using his passions to impact individuals rather than the masses. Yes, the work he did had an impact on the world, but I think that was collateral.
So, when you think of how you can be the difference, emulate James Foley. Emulate the passion he had for life by being passionate about your own. Be the difference by being yourself, passionately.