Every year I get to host our Celebration of Active Citizenship which recognizes the many ways students have prioritized community in the past year. While the cupcakes and awards are pretty great, one of my favorite parts of the celebration is listening to students reflect on their community experiences. This year our student speaker was Andrew Burns ’18.
Andrew Burns Remarks from the 2018 Celebration of Active Citizenship
I am so excited to have been given the opportunity to speak with you all tonight especially because of how important the OCE has been to me throughout my time at William & Mary.
One of the very first things I did when I got on campus as a freshman was the OCE’s SHOW Day during orientation. I spent the day with Head Start, an organization that provides early childhood services to low-income children, and I mulched a playground alongside some of my new, fellow classmates at the College. It was nice to see how great the playground looked when we were done, and it felt good to get our hands dirty and help this organization with our manual labor.
Beyond that though, what truly made that day special was talking to the volunteer coordinator. She talked to us about Head Start and their mission. As the day progressed, she became more and more excited about the progress we were making and how nice the playground was looking. Seeing her smile and hearing how grateful she was for our work is what stuck out to me and what made the overall experience meaningful. Yes, we made an impact and helped an organization that serves many children and their families, but we also helped this woman who has dedicated her life to this great cause. She has so much on her plate to help make Head Start successful, and the fact that we could take one thing off it to make her life even that much easier made the whole experience worthwhile.
I find this emphasis on the service you can’t see as an important component of active citizenship and is a reason to reflect on the community engagement you get involved with. The people you are serving aren’t just the people being supported by the organization you are volunteering with, but you are also serving the members of that organization. You are giving them more time and energy to focus on other aspects of their organization, so they can have a greater impact on the community.
It’s important to keep this in mind, especially when you serve your community in ways that may sometimes not feel like you are actually contributing much. We’ve all been there. We’ve had a service project that doesn’t quite feel like what we’re doing matters, but believe me, it does. I felt this way when I first started volunteering at Olde Towne Medical Center, a free clinic in the area. As an over-eager premedical student, I was so excited to get involved with this project, until I learned that I was just taking stacks of papers and typing them up to have a digital copy. It didn’t really feel like I was doing much. I wanted to make an impact on patients, but that wasn’t happening.
As my time with Olde Towne progressed though, the woman I was working with grew more and more appreciative of what I was doing and explained how she really appreciated that she didn’t have to spend her time doing the transcribing as it would take hours out of her already overbooked week. What has been even greater is that I’ve actually started seeing her work with patients which I didn’t even realize she did before, since she was usually drowning in paperwork. So in a way, I was helping patients by freeing up this amazing woman and allowing her to help people instead of focus solely on paperwork.
As active citizens, we should not just serve our communities, but we should also reflect on that service to understand the full extent of the impact we are making. In many situations, there are many hidden effects of our community engagement and by uncovering them, we can get an even greater understanding of how complicated and important active citizenship can be. I am so grateful for my time at the College and for all the opportunities I’ve been given to get involved, especially through the OCE.