-By Joshua Higginbotham ’17
My name is Joshua Higginbotham, and I’m a 5th-year senior studying Computer Science. At the end of my junior year (after the Spring 2016 semester), I took a semester off. No, I didn’t just stay home and chill all Summer, but I also didn’t go for an internship, or study abroad, or go on a mission trip, nor do any of the things that one might ordinarily expect a college student to do when not in classes. Further, it wasn’t just Summer but also the Fall, and I only very recently (for the Spring 2017 semester) returned to classes.
There were several reasons that I took a semester off, some personal and some practical.
To begin with, taking a semester off made my degree plan look a lot nicer. What does that mean? It means that my undergraduate course load has at most 2 computer science classes in any given semester. Many of my major-specific upper-level classes are Spring-only (according to Howdy), and I was staring down the prospect of having to take 4 such classes in a single semester (which would have been Spring 2017) because they couldn’t be taken at any other time. Up until the point at which I began considering this, I had never made lower than an “A” in any of my computer science classes. Nonetheless, taking four of them at once was not a challenge that I felt up to.
Taking a semester off obviously pushed my graduation date back by a semester, but it also allowed me to spread out my remaining computer science classes more efficiently, so that now I not only do not have a semester with 4 upper-level computer science classes, but do not have a semester with more than 2 of them. The Spring 2017 semester proved to be a very reasonable workload for me, so I have no reason to regret my decision to take a semester off: 2 upper-level CS classes is plenty.
I understand that many students can’t delay graduation for the sake of an easier course load because of financial issues or contractual obligations, but for anyone else I would highly recommend considering something like what I did: plan your courses as well as you can because you will learn better and make better grades when you are under less stress, and those benefits are ultimately more important than when exactly you graduate.
While this partly answers the question of why I took a semester off, there still remains the question of what I did with that time.
I devoted my time off to discerning a religious vocation with the Order of St. Benedict. What does that mean? In the Catholic Church (yes, I’m Catholic) there are a number of groups of men and women who live lives completely consecrated to God’s service. The Order of St. Bendedict (OSB for short) in particular is composed of a number of monasteries inhabited by male religious (or “monks”) and convents of women religious (or “nuns”) who live life in community and observe the famous Rule of St. Benedict. They eat, pray, and work together, and rather than having some distinctive “apostolate” (preaching, caring for the sick, teaching in schools, etc.) they are content to perform whatever works of charity that Providence sends their way, or even to live life completely separated from “the world.”
This explanation is given only to provide some context, and must necessarily be brief. To anyone who wishes to learn more about the Order of St. Benedict, I highly recommend googling “clear creek abbey tulsa ok” or “clear creek monks.”
Anyway, I spent my time off discerning whether that was the time to enter religious life. I spent the Summer at a small monastic foundation in Arlington, near where I live, and a few days in the Fall visiting Clear Creek Abbey (the same Clear Creek as was mentioned earlier). I also met with the bishop of my home diocese, attended Holy Mass very regularly (every day in fact, with few exceptions), and began praying the Divine Office more (something else you might learn about if you look up Clear Creek Abbey…). I spent a lot of time reading the Holy Scriptures and Church fathers, and talked matters over at great length with my parents and spiritual director.
Ultimately we came to the conclusion (as you might have guessed by this point) that it would be best to continue my undergraduate studies. There is no need (or space) to discuss the reasons for this, other than to say that it simply wasn’t yet the right time for me to attempt to enter the religious life.
Despite that (rather, because of it), I learned and grew a great deal during my time off. It was certainly difficult, but returning to classes was not as difficult for me as others had anticipated and I now have a much better sense of direction for my life. The monastic life is not for everyone, but everyone can learn from it, and even benefit from it, whether it be for just a few days or during a semester off. Who knows? One might even discover a calling, as I have, to live it for a lifetime.