How to Rewrite our Mindset About Service

Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day of service has always been an essential part of Lawrenceville’s yearly traditions.

Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day of service has always been an essential part of Lawrenceville’s yearly traditions. The School designates this day for students to connect with members of the greater community, and every year, Lawrentians cherish this opportunity to gain exposure to members within local neighborhoods. Although the School has come to embrace and appreciate this day of service, it is still very much separated from our daily lives and falls short of the true impact it could create on campus.

While the administration has done a great job in encouraging students to begin thinking about the importance of MLK Day prior to its arrival, our service on that day is still temporal and often remains disconnected from our Lawrenceville lives. We only begin to truly meditate on the significance of service the evening before and rarely ever continue to extend our presence in the cause. The day seems to be carved out of our swamped schedules, and we instantly return to studying for our next test or focusing on extracurricular activities the minute we arrive back on campus; although playing with children and helping at nursing homes are certainly rewarding experiences, they are just one-time events that play no significance in both our lives and others’ if we do not return to these communities. The detachment between our school life and MLK Day devalues the worthiness of these few hours we spend with other people, which makes me wonder, what is the point of this day if we simply return to a culture of seclusion and isolation after such exposure?

The purpose of MLK day is to inspire students to expand their horizons and understand how they can become more active members of society; but, being conscious and good willed citizens of this world does not come from servicing for simply one day and forgetting about the experience after. It comes from frequently learning about the communities around us and choosing to live in a culture of charity, curiosity, and compassion for others. Although many of us enjoy this opportunity to step outside of the Lawrenceville bubble, it was very much a temporary experience that many of us do not maintain. In doing so, we limit ourselves to the true merit of service and the impact it can not only have on our lives, but also the lives of others. Thus, it is imperative to consider how we can foster a community that encourages us to integrate service into our daily routines rather than have it be a separate part of our lives. Perhaps, instead of having MLK Day as a one-time event, the administration can designate another day in the year, without having to cancel classes, for students to return to these organizations and re-service. Moreover, the community service office can also organize one-time events or modify the Lawrenceville Community Action Project (LCAP) service requirement so students can return to their MLK Day communities. Through long-term service opportunities, we ensure that the bonds students form with their respective groups are more meaningful rather than simple occurrences.

Although reflecting on the concept of service is certainly important, we should be spending more energy on broadening our understanding of issues within society and how we can help alleviate them. Our School has done a magnificent job in encouraging students to think about what service means, but we have not had the chance to truly learn about the systemic problems that require us to service in the first place. Understanding these issues that exist within our community will not only allow us to serve with more purpose, but also with a more open and informed mindset. For example, Lawrentians can facilitate group discussions about the relationship between socioeconomic status and academic success, do bi-weekly readings about Trenton’s poverty rates, learn more about how the public school system affects children’s lives in our vicinity, and become informed about other relevant issues within our community. Expanding our knowledge about the world and the society we live in will allow us to approach our everyday lives with a more conscious mindset and appreciation for those around us.

Secondly, in order to promote a campus culture where service acts as an integral part of our lives, we have to physically partake in activities to reaffirm the notions we learn about. Often times as a Lawrentian, it’s easy to get caught up in our personal worries that we forget about what’s happening outside of those engagements. For example, if a little bit of time could be spent on organizing workshops rather than reflecting the entire night before MLK Day, students can physically partake in group activities that builds upon the knowledge we learn about throughout the year, as exemplified above. This will help reinforce the importance of service in our daily lives and how we can live with an incentive to promote change for the better.

Undoubtedly, MLK Day is an incredible opportunity for Lawrentians to step out of our personal bubbles and learn about the world around us, but we can make this experience even more worthwhile and valuable if we choose to adopt an open mindset about service and make it a more active component in our lives.

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