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The Daily Collegian: A Message to the Next Generation of Leaders: Get Involved in Your Local Communities


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The Daily Collegian: A Message to the Next Generation of Leaders: Get Involved in Your Local Communities

Massachusetts students are justifiably proud of their world-class universities and a tradition of public activism older than the United States itself.

That is why I was surprised and saddened to read in Monday's Boston Globe that our state ranked 44th nationwide in its rate of student volunteerism.

I have met college activists at every school in the state who impressed me with their seriousness, smarts, and dedication. And yet so many of their classmates are choosing to stay on the sidelines and do nothing to help their communities.

Across the country, volunteer rates fell in 2006 for the first time since skyrocketing after the attacks of September 11. Today - National and Global Youth Service Day - we can and we must do better.

As we face tragedy together, the need to help each another is at its greatest. Tragic events like the student massacre on Virginia Tech's campus raise critical questions about whether we are meeting the needs of the mentally, socially and financially distressed among us. Our nation is strengthened by the community support, compassion and involvement of its citizenry. We cannot let anyone fall through the cracks.

The good news is that the people of Massachusetts are volunteering more than they have in a generation and rates are continuing to climb. Furthermore, these rates of growth in volunteerism are increasing more rapidly than any other state in the last four years.

But we are playing catch up with the rest of the country when we should be leading it. It is time to call upon the youth of Massachusetts to set the example as leaders in community volunteerism for the rest of the nation.

Boston College is leading the way in community activism. More than half of its students are involved in volunteer work. 600-700 students volunteer in Appalachia each spring break, while others commit to working at least four hours a week in homeless shelters, schools, and other non-profits. I applaud the efforts of those students who do volunteer—but again, I believe we can and we must do better.

I know that, as students, it's easy to feel powerless—as if everybody is talking at you and nobody is really listening. I remember what it was like to be your age during another tragically misguided war in Vietnam just like the one we face today in Iraq. No doubt, the awful news coming out of Washington makes many of you wonder if you should just steer clear of politics.

But please--- get involved and stay involved. This state and this nation need you to fight for the issues you care about.

Again and again, students have changed the world. In every major social movement—not just civil rights but also women's rights and social justice movements everywhere—the front lines are almost always students. So just because politics may have disappointed you, don't lose hope in politics. We need change, and we need your input. I cannot tell you how good it feels to know that you were part of making things go right.

So how can you make a difference in your community? We can all do our part, whether it's joining an organization on campus, volunteering in a soup kitchen, writing a letter to your representative on an issue of concern to you, mentoring a younger student or simply reaching out to a troubled peer. With luck, we might even be able to prevent the occurrence of the kind of tragedy that befell Virginia Tech's campus just a few days ago.

As Robert Kennedy once said: "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

After Vietnam when vets were fighting for vets against a lot of politicians who hid behind slogans, some would weigh in against us saying "My country right or wrong." Our response was simple: "Yes, my country right or wrong. When right, keep it right and when wrong, make it right." That's our mission - yours and mine - to get off our rear ends - go out - and make it right today.

Interested in finding a volunteer opportunity? Go to Youth Service America, the organization that sponsors National & Global Youth Service Day, has more information about volunteer opportunities in Massachusetts.

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