Thinking back now, it is hard for me to put my finger on the exact feelings I felt when I graduated high school. I remember a mixture of hope for the world and excitement for my future. It is in the moment, when I finally walked across that stage, that I realized the next chapter of my life had begun. Now that I was an adult, I could make the changes I wanted to see in the world. It was our generation’s time to shine.
All through high school, I told people that I wanted to go to college so that I could help people. That is all I said. I never had a concrete plan of how I would achieve that, but, just like everything else in my life, I had blind and uncontrollable hope. When you’re in high school, it can be easy to keep that hope.
The transition between high school and college is more than just figuring out how to do your laundry without bleaching all of your clothes and learning how to cook food other than Kraft mac and cheese. Along with adult tasks, you have adult worries and for the first time, there is no one telling you that the world is fair or everything will work out.
I met new people who had different life experiences than me and started paying more attention to the outside world and all of the issues that came with it. When you’re a kid, people try to keep things simple. The world is simply good and bad. However, when you’re an adult, you realize that there is nothing simple about this world. Before, when I said I wanted to help people, I thought that was black and white. If I was good and helped others, then there would be no more bad in the world. When I reached college, I realized that being good is simply not enough. I thought I would never be good enough to erase all of the bad in our world, so why would I even try.
For a while, I lost my hope. When my family and friends asked me what I wanted to do, I suddenly responded with, “I don’t know.” Where there had once been so much optimism, there was only confusion. If I can’t ever be good enough to truly help others, what is the point? Why would any of us want to work for non-profits or other organizations attempting to do good in this world? It felt like I was caught up in a wave and had no sense of which way was up.
About a month ago, I said yes to an experience that would truly change my life. I was invited to help run a leadership retreat run through a scholarship foundation. This foundation funds students who have had the odds stacked against them, but use this opposition as motivation to pay it forward and help others like them in their community. Everything these students do is so that they can one day give back to their community.
I was hesitant when I was first asked to help because the students were all around my age. All of the other volunteers helping run the retreat were at least ten years older than me. I felt like I may have been intruding on something that I did not earn. I had not faced nearly as many hardships as these students. I did not have the same level of passion to give back anymore the way these students did. However, I said yes because somewhere deep down, I knew this could be the way out of the wave I had been lost in.
Throughout the weekend, we played games to get to know each other and had time to sit down and really delve into conversation with each other. At first, I tried to stay distant. I did just what was expected of me and focused on helping make this experience great for the students. But, as the weekend went on, I couldn’t help but get sucked into the experience. I spent entire meals talking to students about their goals and aspirations and what motivates them. They all had been through so much, but instead of letting themselves get lost in the mess that is the world, they let it inspire them.
It was on the drive home when I was finally alone in my car on the highway that I had time to truly reflect. These students had experienced the worst in the world, but they were not lost or hopeless. They were inspired and dedicated to changing the world. If they can experience the injustices of our society first-hand and still be motivated to help others, then why can’t I?
All along, I was simply missing perspective. Yes, the world is unfair. Yes, there are more problems than I can ever help fix. But, together, we can all make a difference. Even one person doing their part to help others makes the world a better place. After meeting all of these amazing people, I knew that our collective attempts would leave an impact.
My favorite quote from my time at the retreat was, “You don’t have to change the world to change a world.” I think we all need to remember this sometimes. There are so many problems that we may never fix, and that can be overwhelming, but as long as you help even one person, it makes a difference. We don’t have to focus on all of the problems in the world, all we have to focus on is being a good person to those around us and making small differences in others’ lives every day.
This blog post was written by Chloe Maher, Director of Community Service