Good Morning Ladies and Gentleman! I have to say, it is early….you can tell this was not planned by college students- because we would never organize anything at this hour! Regardless, I am both honored and humbled by this opportunity to share a few minutes with you this morning, representing not only Elon University but all of the universities selected for the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.
My generation is often referred to as the "me" generation, a generation of the self-serving, self-absorbed and self-seeking. But I disagree. I believe there is a growing recognition among my generation that we have a moral duty to help change the condition of humankind. The tragic events of September 11th and Hurricane Katrina served as defining moments that broke down barriers of class, status, and race, evoking in all of us a passion for serving, a longing to make a difference.
Though these circumstances inspired a movement of youth towards service, I also believe that my generation appreciates the effects of globalization more than ever before and is increasingly aware of our interdependent world. Exposure to problems on both a local and global scale has empowered us to become leaders and not just passive observers in the call to service.
I traveled to Guatemala for a Habitat trip with Elon a few years ago- and it was there I met Guadeloupe, an Indigenous Mayan woman who had started a 20 woman co-op in hopes of a better life for her children. I will never forget her words:
"I can not express to you the pain I feel when I look into my children's eyes and am unable to help them with simple things, with reading books or even writing their name. You see, I am a Mayan woman and I was never blessed with an education."
I considered myself an advocate for the powerless and silenced. I considered myself a social activist, a woman of strength who would stand up against the odds. Then I realized I have no odds. I am a white female from the most powerful country in the world. I have a strong family, a private school education, money in the bank and endless privileges. This woman standing in front of us could not read or write, she had no choice in selecting her husband or when she wanted to have children. She lived a life of oppression in the most extreme form. She was a feminist, a progressive thinker, an optimist, a social activist, an educator... she was remarkable.
For me, Guadeloupe was the driving force in my decision to become a leader in service. Each of us has our own stories, our own reasons to serve. But my generation is united in the belief that the choices we make now define our moral selves and determine the ethical character of the world we inhabit and leave to future generations. And this is why serve.