Words to Describe It: Reflections on College Conference West
We are often poor salesmen. Language offers us thousands of ways to relate or promote an item with intimate detail, and yet our go-to phrases are “You gotta try this food, it’s amazing!” or “Check out this band, they’re awesome!” Perhaps such clichéd one-word descriptors are convincing enough for our close friends and family, but the words amazing and awesome are vague and subjective at best when coming from strangers. I am reminded of a billboard I see whenever I’m driving through the desert on Interstate 10 towards Phoenix that literally advertises, “REALLY GOOD JERKY, take exit 5.” I think to myself sarcastically, “They ain’t foolin’ around—they even used an adverb!” Effective advertisement moves past the obvious and reveals qualities you can relate to while also putting on display features that peak your interest; I must successfully make my idea become your idea of awesome and amazing.
I’m not exactly trying to advertise here, but I do want to reflect on OCF’s College Conference West, the annual four-day gathering of college students from all across the western half of the North America. As a four-time veteran I can tell you “CC West is awesome! Amazing! So much fun! The best thing ever!” etc., but if you’re reading this blog and have never gone to CC West, you’re probably not entirely convinced and are wondering who is this Pat guy anyway. For all you know, three-hour lectures debating the finer points of 13th century ecclesiological development in the Byzantine Empire might be Pat’s idea of a good time (how did you know!?).
Don’t worry, CC West is not a de facto Ortho-nerd convention where the hyperdox faithful gather. Indeed, all types of college students from various backgrounds with different personalities and different ideas of what’s “fun” and “awesome” come to CC West; yet somehow the overwhelming impression from attendees is one of fulfillment and heartfelt joy. Something deeper happens at CC West, something more than fun or awesome, and that is what I will try to relate, if there are words to describe it.
I think we can all recollect a few very fond memories from our lives. Memories where even the thought of it moves your heart with longing to go back and experience it again. Perhaps a special family reunion with your favorite cousins, this last summer serving as a camp counselor, your first semester in the dorms—anything, really. My guess is that the common link making these experiences such fond memories is not the specifics of what you were doing: it’s who you were with and the time you shared together.
As human beings, communal interaction and relationships are what we desire and find fulfillment in. The activities that we do together merely serve as the vehicle for this communal interaction and relating to one another. That’s not to say that what we do together doesn’t matter; superficial activities like ice-breakers serve the purpose of getting strangers comfortable with each other, while serious heartfelt discussions on important topics have more potency to draw those same people closer together in a meaningful way.
I believe this is where CC West has such an impact on its attendees, myself fully included. It’s more than getting away from the hustle bustle of our overly busy lives. It’s more than staying at a beautiful ranch and monastery for four days. It’s more than learning about our Orthodox faith and working through difficult topics impacting our lives. And yes, it’s more than enjoying the company of fellow college-age students. College Conference West is amazing because it uses all of these elements to bring all sorts of different young men and women into an authentic community with oneness in purpose: glorifying God together, and thus becoming more human together. For some attendees, it’s the workshops or keynote addresses. For others, it’s the free-time in the dining hall or singing the Akathist of Thanksgiving at sunrise. At CC West we eat together, sing together, laugh together, cry together, and worship together. Whatever meaningful activity it is, everyone at CC West feels that they are experiencing communion with each other too deep for words, and that God is within all of it somehow. In the same way that Saint Paul encouraged the Colossians, we are being “knit together in love” at CC West.
My feeble attempt to relate the College Conference West experience does not do it justice. But perhaps that is where I can make the connection; we’ve all had an experience too deep for words. College Conference West is that kind of experience, no matter who you are. So if you’ve been sitting on the fence unsure about the whole thing, be brave and sign up! If you haven’t attended CC West, I encourage you to do so this season. It will be the highlight of your year.
It’s really good. That’s a promise.
Patrick Lynch is an OCF alumnus and former member of the Student Leadership Board. He works as a prototype machinist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. Patrick attends Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church in Pasadena and is an active member of the Orthodox young adult community in Southern California.