Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Elite Can Serve (Daily Cal, December 1999)

Past thoughts---

The issue of a community service requirement for UC and CSU graduation obviously hits a sore spot with many Daily Californian readers and writers. As a full time working student I can appreciate the unsettling stress of college life. For the average student struggling to balance academics, work, studying and activities, the added burden of yet another task to undertake seems overwhelming.

That said, I think it is important for us to remember as students in an elite university that all of us, regardless of background or work ethic, enjoy a privilege that many of the classmates who stood beside us at high school graduation did not; we have the opportunity to take advantage of educational opportunities that can challenge our thinking and broaden the possibility to shape our destinies.
An integral part of the educational experience is realizing there is more to education than the Puffy Combs/Adam Smith dogma of getting yours. Of course, education comes first. By no means am I devaluing the importance of paying rent, or making sure we have electricity to read books by, or food to eat even if it is only Ramen and sausages.

Let s be real: For most, our academic poverty is temporary. We are being groomed for upwardly mobile class ascension. Part of education begins when we step out the ivory tower and into the world. We are taught to be well trained, well read, well spoken. We are taught to think critically about social and political issues, matters of concrete and abstract intelligences.

How can we claim to be students prepared for the twenty-first century if we exclude social service from our academic reality as if it is a bad mixer added to a sophisticated drink? Community work allows me to think more critically about the application of my academic studies. It is a medium for personal and academic growth. There is even a not-so-altruistic motive for mandatory community service; if we don t work together to cultivate community, there may not be one for us to enter upon graduation.

Community service isn t about grudgingly giving up valuable time. It can be a professional learning experience. Any community service requirement should be fair and lenient; the Davis proposal should recognize the first priority of a student is education and survival.

That said, a few hours here and there over 4.5 years isn t really such a bad thing, is it? Even if you never do any other community service again in your life except for writing a big check at Christmas time, at the very least you can say, I took advantage of the opportunity to help others and myself.

Michelle Milam
UC Berkeley senior

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