There is a small Hispanic community center called El Centro just 15 minutes from Princeton’s campus. Ten minutes away is the New Jersey Special Olympics Headquarters. Two minutes away is a local food pantry. Despite their distinct purposes, these organizations share a common need: volunteers.
Princeton students are undeniably busy. Between regular classes, clubs, athletics, and various extracurricular commitments, many of us find it hard to find time to sit down for a meal with a friend, or make any non-academic, non-extracurricular related plans. Though I acknowledge the tenuous balance Princeton students are constantly struggling to maintain, there is a vital component missing from the average student’s regimen: community service.
Within a 30-mile radius of campus, there are countless service opportunities available to interested students. Many of these deserving service projects, however, suffer from lack of core volunteers. In my own experience as a service project leader, I have seen how frustrating it can be to consistently struggle to recruit and keep committed volunteers. Unfortunately, I don’t think my experience is unique. No matter how noble the cause may be, when it comes to community service it seems that most Princeton students just “don’t have time.”
Not enough Princeton students are committing themselves to service projects. As a campus community, we can and should be doing more to reach outside the Orange Bubble. Our informal motto, “In the nation’s service and in the service of humanity,” certainly implies that Princeton students have an obligation to bettering their community, even beyond campus. If we are to truly adhere to this dogma, we must begin being “in the nation’s service” now, while we are only 15 or 10 or two minutes from opportunities to improve the world around us. We cannot wait until we walk out of the FitzRandolph Gate. If we ever hope to be in any nation’s service, we must begin by committing ourselves to opportunities currently within our reach: opportunities that are begging us to reach out.
Being “in the service of humanity” does not require grandiose service projects or systematic upheavals that “change the world”. Service, in its simplest form, can take place anywhere and on any scale. It does not require spending months laboring in third world countries or spending large sums of money on grand projects. Service can be as simple as attending a Habitat for Humanity build, teaching English in El Centro, or volunteering with Princeton Disability Awareness or Best Buddies.
Despite the praiseworthy efforts of project leaders on campus, our campus culture still suffers from a lack of emphasis on the benefits of community service. Since commitment to “giving back” cannot be instilled, perhaps it should be enforced. I propose that Princeton University Administration impose a community service graduation requirement. Such a requirement might take the form of a requisite number of hours of community service (many high schools in the U.S. employ this method) or by requiring students to spearhead a service project. The particulars of the requirement could, too, be fluid. Many high schools across the country, including my own, require students to fulfill a service requirement prior to graduation.
Princeton students excel in practically every arena — as a community, we boast some of the most talented singers, dancers, performers, athletes, debaters, and academics in the world. Rather than continuing to build up what we already succeed at, we must focus attention to our faults: namely, our lack of commitment to volunteering. To render our motto true, to prove ourselves to be the selfless, social justice-seeking intellectuals we claim to be, we must improve on this front. If not for ourselves, we should do it for the beautiful community outside our bubble.
Jacquelyn Thorbjornson is a sophomore from South Thomaston, Maine. She can be reached at email@example.com.