Do you remember being serenaded at convocation to the tune of “Wake Up Everybody” by two seniors who demanded we look beyond our personal needs and leverage our privilege to benefit the world? I do. My parents do. And I’m guessing that you do as well.
The finale to the song echoed throughout that auditorium: “Wake up, everybody./Need a little help, y’all./Yes I do, need a little help.” It was certainly intimidating to receive this challenge, a challenge to serve others. And during the majority of my four years I had envisioned the “I” to be someone halfway across the globe living in dire poverty.
More recently, though, I have come to believe that the “I” actually represented me. For all the talk about selflessly serving others, I believe that service is an amazing opportunity for improving your character and sense of self, and I, like many other Georgetown students, have benefited greatly from it.
When I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in July 2009 as part of a fall semester program, I was having a bit of an identity crisis. I still had a lot of misgivings about my Georgetown experience after a full two years. I did not know who I wanted to be, let alone who I was at the time.
Aside from a hodgepodge of very loyal friends, I did not have a position at The Corp, a sports team or even a personal dream with which to define myself. Not only was something not quite right, but I also could not even begin to pinpoint the origin of my self-doubts.
So, on one day in late September, at the pinnacle of culture shock, I finally acknowledged my identity crisis. In doing so, I came to what was my lowest and most transformative point in my life. As I pathetically sat on one of the many benches in a small park in the center of Buenos Aires, I kept asking myself what was missing from my life. I was already blessed with great friends, family, opportunities and optimism.
Somewhat surprisingly, the answer that nudged through to the forefront of my conscience was service. By no means was the sensation particularly overwhelming or clear, but it seemed to me that committing to more service in my life was worth the attempt. So I enlisted for the cause.
I became a playmate and disciplinarian for an hour and a half each week for youths in Argentina. They could count on my smile, lenient discipline and broken Spanish. Even as I try to stretch the impact of this form of service, I can probably only say that they gained extended exposure to a 20-year-old American who was good at translating colors and names from Spanish into English.
More difficult to recognize was the transformative force of the service on my own being. Looking back though, those kids endowed me with a peace of mind that has allowed me to be at ease with myself as I have pursued service beyond the streets of Buenos Aires.
When I returned to Georgetown, I threw myself into activities, old and new, that represent service to me. These include shamelessly shouting across campus as a tour guide and tutoring at O’Donovan Hall for D.C. Public Schools. From my tutee Victor, an older Salvadoran immigrant who is illiterate in both English and Spanish, I have been lectured in the art of humility and dedication by teaching him English. For Victor to afford me the great honor and tremendous responsibility of teaching him is an incredible act of trust and dedication to his own self-improvement.
As a tour guide, I have been encouraged to do what I do best: to talk, but talk loudly. In this capacity, my desired impact has been to represent Georgetown accurately and passionately, while ensuring that prospective students feel at ease around our students. Being a tour guide has made me articulate my likes and dislikes of Georgetown to prospective students, which I have internalized over countless tours. And an unexpected consequence has been an immense gratitude for my Georgetown experience.
Service has ended up being a unifying force in my life over the past few years of my Georgetown experience. I believe that it has changed me immensely. It is this empowering personal experience of service that has brought my time here full circle from convocation to this day and because of it, I am proud to call myself a Georgetown Hoya.
Chris Kelley is a senior in the College, a Blue & Gray tour guide and a D.C. Schools Project tutor.
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