Since my mom was raised Buddhist and my dad was raised Catholic, my parents always left religion as a choice for me to make for myself; as long as I stayed open-minded and respected others, they didn’t mind how I chose to label myself. However, after attending Catholic school from grades six through twelve, I definitely think that being in a religious environment shaped my education—and overall life—in a lot of ways. Now that I attend a college with no religious affiliation, I’ve noticed ways in which my educational experience has differed from before and I’ve started to more fully recognize the impact Catholic school has had on my life.

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that if spirituality is important to you, you need to find time to make it a priority. Religion classes provided me with a set period of time to think about my beliefs on a pretty frequent basis, and now that I no longer take any religion courses in college, I haven’t had as much time to think about what I believe. For someone more religious than I am, I think this would probably be the hardest part of transitioning from a religious to a non-religious environment. In my Catholic school, I never felt a need to carve out time for spiritual purposes, but now, it sometimes hits me that that aspect of my education has completely gone away.

Additionally, I’ve been exposed to much more religious diversity since coming to college. In my experience, both of the Catholic schools that I attended were very inclusive and accepting of other people’s beliefs, but I was in the minority as a non-Catholic student at places with an understandable lack of religious diversity. Since coming to a place with no religious affiliation, I’ve been able to broaden my horizons and meet more people from different religious backgrounds. Although I certainly have respect for Catholicism and anyone who follows it, I also value the opportunity to learn from other standpoints, and I feel like briefly learning about other religions in a Catholic school environment didn’t necessarily provide me with a full picture of the world. As a result, I think being at a non-religious school has been a great way to branch out from the homogeneous Catholic bubble I grew accustomed to in the past.

Lastly, even though faith is no longer an emphasis in my education, I think switching to a non-denominational school has taught me other lessons about spirituality. Primarily, I’ve been able to question my relationship with religion from a different point of view because I realized that faith doesn’t have as strong of a bearing on how I live my life than I thought. In the past, being forced to think about spirituality semi-often during religion classes probably made me feel like it was a much larger part of my life than it actually was. Although I would currently describe myself as a secular person that believes in God, I’ve also figured out that my beliefs don’t really define who I am or how I live my life. Having faith in God can be a source of strength or comfort, but having faith in myself will always be most important in shaping who I am and what I achieve.

After spending seven years in the Catholic school system, I can walk away saying that I’m grateful for how it molded me as a person, but ultimately, I don’t regret moving to a non-religious environment in college. Going to Catholic school had a positive influence on my perspective at an impressionable period in my life, and I’m appreciative of how it guided my morals. However, I’ve also decided that I can hold those values in my heart without being affiliated with any religion. At the end of the day, I believe that regardless of a person’s religious alignment, all that really matters is how you treat others; your actions are what really define you as a person.

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