Olivia Sharkey

Service Program Coordinator, Christ the King Cristo Rey High School
St. Vincent College, Class of 2013
Olivia Sharkey Headshot

​​Ever since childhood, I have loved school. I have only had one single absence from school throughout my entire formal educational career, which is not so much a result of my strong immune system, but rather my innate love of learning that drives my life. ​

I had the privilege of continuing my journey with knowledge during my collegiate years in a unique context: the solid foundation of a liberal arts education enriched by the Benedictine tradition. The combination of these two rich foundations has allowed me to greater perceive education as a tool to grow and a catalyst to serve God and His creation more purposefully.  During the 2013 World Youth Day, which I was fortunate to attend, I heard Pope Francis commission the youth with these empowering words: “Go… do not be afraid… and serve!”  Those thoughts personally resonate so beautifully with the educational philosophy that was gifted to me by Saint Vincent College. Education is an empowering tool that, when embraced fully, affords individuals the opportunity to grow in knowledge of self, others, and God.  However, education is a resource that needs to be acted upon; and for me, that is Pope Francis’ emphatic “Go.”  Personally, my time as a student at Saint Vincent College revealed to me that I am to be an agent of empowerment in this world. 
The small student-faculty ratio at Saint Vincent facilitated the constant encouragement of many of my professors and administrators to move beyond my comfort zone. A liberal arts education recognizes that students are not to be fit into cookie-cutter molds; my liberal arts education gently reminds me to fearlessly move beyond the familiar in order to grow in self-discovery, for it is within the unknown that I will continue to learn…to courageously disregard the anxiety of inadequacy and failure by continuously seeking to grow, ask, express, and learn more. A liberal arts philosophy conveys that we are learning from one another through our beautiful differences, and that the cycle of learning is never fully complete, for there are always new people to meet. 
This past August, I began my ministry within a Cristo Rey school (a model of education that services urban, economically underprivileged students). There I recognized the unfortunate reality that many Cristo Rey students have not been provided with the educational background or skill sets to fully realize the wonderful resource that education is, as well as the personal ownership required in order to benefit from that resource. Yet that is also the incredible blessing of teaching at a Cristo Rey school: the chance to embody our Holy Father’s passionate message, “Go… do not be afraid… and serve,” through my liberal arts perspective. With my Saint Vincent education instructing my steps, I have been able to move beyond a reality that was familiar to me and connect my background with that of my students in order to accompany them on their educational journey, and to continue my own. As an educator to underserved youth, I am able to pay forward to my students the same empowerment given to me by those at Saint Vincent College: to not be afraid of one’s potential, but to both own it and meet it with pride. And while that perspective may seem foreign and overwhelming to my students at first, I can be for them the active presence that many of my college professors and administrators were for me by assisting them in navigation of the unknown and embracing any fear it may cause.
I will forever be grateful for and shaped by the Catholic liberal arts identity of Saint Vincent College. And I could not be more proud to be a part of that identity, and to share that precious gift with the world in some capacity. I recently heard it said that we each have a “holy boldness and sacred madness” within us. Saint Vincent College disclosed that reality within me, prompting me to run bravely toward it, and to share my own boldness and madness with others in order to unveil and learn from that same holy boldness and sacred madness within them.

Olivia Sharkey joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps to teach theology and work as a service program coordinator at Christ the King Cristo Rey High School in Newark. She has made numerous service learning trips to locations around the world including Taiwan, China, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. She is the founder of The Banana Project, a campus endeavor that seeks to establish a nutritional program at Francisco Coll Elementary School in Guatemala, where Saint Vincent students and faculty have served during the annual mission to Guatemala.  She graduated from Saint Vincent College in 2013, where she majored in theology major and minored in Spanish.