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Finding his vocation

Written by Mike Thee
April 5, 2010

Jeremiah Grams was a pretty typical student who was progressing through his college years in pretty typical fashion. It was spring quarter of 2003 and he was finishing his sophomore year as a humanities major in Matteo Ricci College and preparing to study in Italy over the summer. “I was all signed up and ready to study Renaissance philosophy, drink wine and eat good food,” he says.

Around that time, a friend encouraged him to go to a Calcutta Club meeting. “I thought, ‘OK, I’m not really into service, but you’re nice and I’ve always wanted to go to India, so I’ll check it out.’” He went to the meeting and left with a positive impression of the program. He just wasn’t sure it was the right fit and decided to stick with his summer plans.

Then something changed, and although Grams today is somewhat at a loss to explain it, he gave the Calcutta Club a second look. This time, he decided to change course and go to India. “To be honest, the particulars of how I made that transition from dropping the course in Italy and going to India are kind of foggy to me,” he says. “In retrospect, though, it makes great sense because I think part of what I wanted at the time was the semi-stereotypical, universal search for some kind of meaning.”

In the fall of 2003, he left for Calcutta and spent the quarter caring for the sick and dying. It was a powerful experience, but Grams would not realize just how powerful until he returned to Seattle for Christmas break.

At first he thought he could pick up right where he left off. Very quickly, though, he knew that wasn’t going to happen. “It wasn’t until I came back that it really hit me in the form of having to suppress it—having people ask me about Calcutta, and if I said more than a couple words, watching their eyes go. All of a sudden, I recognized there was a huge loss of energy or substance or meaning that had come to me there.” Calcutta, he says, was opening him up to something new. What exactly that was he didn’t know but he felt he needed to go back.

After consulting with many on campus, including Jodi Kelly, associate dean of Matteo Ricci College, he put his education on hold and returned to India in June 2004. This time, he was gone for a year. He spent most of the time serving in Calcutta, but he also traveled to Sri Lanka and Thailand after the December 2005 tsunami to work with Habitat for Humanity to help rebuild.

When he returned to the United States, things were different this time around. “I was much more conscious of my reintegration process and wanting to ground the experiences and the work I was doing in Calcutta into my life here.” It was during his second Calcutta experience, he says, that he began to feel more of a pull toward the field of medicine.

But he needed some more time to work it all out. He spent some time on an organic farm working with Franciscian sisters. Back in Seattle, he took some classes at Seattle Central Community College. He worked part-time jobs which allowed him to volunteer at places like Providence Hospitality House, St. James Kitchen, Earth Corps and Seattle Tilth Children’s Garden. He was dedicating anywhere from 11 to 18 hours of his time to service every week.

After being introduced by mutual friends, he got to know his partner, Devin while volunteering at St. James. She was a student at Seattle University and had traveled to El Salvador a number of times. After Grams accompanied her twice to El Salvador, they went together to Calcutta after her graduation.

Following this trip—his third, for those keeping score at home—Grams said he felt very content with where he was in relationship to Calcutta. He also came away with a heightened sense of responsibility and knew for certain that he wanted to go back to school to study for a career in the medical field.

So this past fall, he re-enrolled at SU as a sophomore. He is now studying general science with a pre-professional specialization. “It was always my goal to finish my degree,” he says. “What I told myself was this time I wanted to be really sure what it is I wanted to do and what I was going for.”

At the moment his plan is to go to medical school—which he calls a “carrot-before-the-horse goal”—but  he says he’d also be happy working as a physician assistant or nurse practitioner. He intends to provide care to people in the United States and abroad.

As Grams looks back on his six-year sabbatical of sorts, he is quick to gratefully acknowledge the support he has received from SU faculty and staff throughout the entirety of his academic and spiritual journey. He painstakingly identifies a long list of people who have been and continue to be influential in his life. There’s, of course, Jodi Kelly in Matteo Ricci; Mike Bayard, S.J., currently director of Campus Ministry, with whom Grams prepared for Confirmation; Erin Swezey of the College of Education, who Grams got to know when she was co-directing Magis; Kathy Collins of Campus Ministry, who he has known from growing up with her daughters; Pat Brown, now in the law school, whose Poverty in America class Grams says was pivotal in awakening him to his call to serve; Pat Twohy, S.J., of the Arrupe House; and Kent Koth, director of the Center for Service and Community Engagement.

In return, Grams is highly regarded by professors and staff alike.

Here’s what Matteo Ricci’s Kelly has to say: “Jeremiah gets it. His life is not a rough draft. His deep understanding of that fact has led him to travel the far corners of the world and, more importantly, into the deep recesses of his soul. Jeremiah has been on a journey since the day he arrived at Seattle U nine years ago. When he showed up on campus he was book smart but ‘street’ challenged. He hit a few bumps, but instead of backing down, he took his hits and has landed extremely well. I am delighted he has chosen to return to Seattle University to continue his studies. We are the richer for it.”