Thank you, Mark, for this honor. The President’s Medal will hang in my office in Washington as a symbol of this inspiring community called Hobart and William Smith Colleges; my congratulations to Dr. George Abraham. I am honored to be recognized with you today.
I have a few brief remarks to the students -- faulty and staff are welcome to listen in.
I have known your President, Mark Gearan, for a number of years; his leadership of the Peace Corps and his strong support of AmeriCorps have brought together our mutual dreams for service in this country. But nothing lights this man up more than speaking about Hobart and William Smith Colleges. I needed and wanted to know what was so special about this small liberal arts college tucked away in New York state.
Do you know that your school is the only liberal arts college in New York selected by the Princeton Review and Campus Compact as a “College with a Conscience”? You have on-campus opportunities to work with a Habitat for Humanity chapter, America Reads, Jumpstart (one of our own AmeriCorps programs), annual days of service, and on and on.
I often tell college students that I am not a poet, or a philosopher, or ethicist. I’m really not an expert in any particular field -- except national service. Real-life service experience is what I know, and what I’d like to talk to you about today.
I want to ask you to reflect on the words that often accompany the beginning of college: new privileges and new responsibilities.
These words provide an opportunity to think about how you will use your time here at Hobart and William Smith.
What, exactly, are the new privileges and responsibilities that come with your status as a “college student”? How will you take advantage of those privileges and how will you exercise those responsibilities?
And as you reflect on these questions, I ask you to consider a set of parallel questions as well: What are the privileges and responsibilities that your citizenship in our great country confers upon you? How will you take advantage of those privileges, and how will you exercise those responsibilities?
In his Inaugural Address, President Bush challenged Americans to get involved in their communities and their nation — to be citizens, citizens, he said, not spectators. A year later, in his 2002 State of the Union address, he challenged all Americans to dedicate the equivalent of at least two years over the course of their lifetimes to serving others and improving their communities.
As you consider the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship, I hope that you will place a strong emphasis on fulfilling those responsibilities through service. I like to take a broad definition of service — the service we provide to our families, in our communities, and for our country. To me, service means being engaged in your community, voting, taking an active part in government, and putting your talents and skills at the disposal of those in need.
There are many ways, of course, to answer the President’s Call to Service, but as the Director of AmeriCorps, I would be remiss not to encourage your to consider joining AmeriCorps. We need young people like you to give a year or two of full-time or part-time service to national organizations like JumpStart, Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America, or to serve at local grassroots or faith-based organizations. What’s more, at the end of your term of service, you will earn an education award that you can use to pay back student loans or to further your education.
Indeed, there are few experiences like a year in AmeriCorps. As director of the program, I’m privileged to come into contact every day with people your age who choose to devote a year of their lives to focusing exclusively on meeting their obligations of citizenship. I’m continually impressed by their drive, their commitment, their sense of responsibility, their recognition of their duty to give back for the blessings that they have received.
This fine institution of higher education, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, has taken the American tradition of service to heart. Just this past week, your colleges decided to match up to $1,000 for each eligible student who earns an education award with AmeriCorps.
President Gearen, on behalf of all of us at AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service, thank you for this example and partnership with us in service.
Students, as you begin this next phase of your life, my greatest hope is that you will take advantage of the wonderful exposure and environment that you have here at Hobart and William Smith – that the values of this campus truly take root in your soul, and that you will find ways to serve your neighbors and your nation. As you begin on the road toward a more fruitful and productive life, your possibilities are limitless. But whatever path you choose, I urge you to take the President’s Call to Service seriously — to make sure that you devote a significant portion of your time to helping the neediest among us, and to making sure that no one is left behind.
As students of Hobart and William Smith, you are entering a wonderful environment both to gain knowledge and to reflect on the importance of service. Just being here today puts you already well on the road to a more significant — and successful — life. That is because a truly successful person is one who seeks knowledge and ways to contribute to society, as well as to his or her own well-being. True success, I firmly believe — in fact, I know — is closely connected to a commitment to justice, compassion, forgiveness, peace, humility, and the common good.
As I look out into the faces of this audience, I see your potential for greatness: greatness measured by a spirit of generosity, commitment, and accomplishment. I think a good person is one who can help contribute to society. I think a GREAT person causes condition under which the human soul can be nourished. In you, I see the faces of America and its future. And from this perspective, it is a bright future indeed.
You have a great and rare opportunity to build upon and spread the influence you will garner here at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. By answering the challenges — both new and old — that have been thrust upon our nation; by accepting the duties of American citizenship; by dedicating a portion of your college experience and your lives to service to your nation, to the College and to your community, you will be reaffirming the principles upon which our country was founded, principles which are still a beacon of light throughout the world.
I believe that service is about experiences in life, not credentials from life. I have devoted my life to service, and my personal reward is being here with you today, serving on your behalf.
Thank you so much for inviting me. It has been my honor.
Convocation Address, Rosie K. Mauk, director of AmeriCorps
August 31, 2005