Active citizenship is one of those terms that allows for a multitude of definitions and truly allows each person to be able to decide for themselves what it means. In my opinion, active citizenship is when citizens actively care about their community and society. It is when people get involved at all different levels of roles to help make an overall positive mark and influence on the community. It’s when people take action on all different levels of depth regardless of their standing in society or job importance or difficulty. Throughout this past semester, we have talked about five different topics that I believe all contribute and are part of active citizenship in its entirety. They are social change, citizenship, volunteerism, community, and leadership.
The first of these is social change. Social change alludes to the behaviors of a group, their cultural beliefs, or their societal norms over time. All of these combined have the ability to overall change a community over time. Social changes have become the norm and are the reasons why we have progressed over time to the society and lifestyle that we know today. There is also a social change model that we studied in class that has social change broken down very well. The model has social change broken into several different aspects called “the 7 C’s”. The first big one is “Consciousness of Self” which is talking about how people need to know what they stand for and value, and also what position they have on certain issues to know what motivates them to take action. Then there is “Congruence” which talks about how you need stay true to your own beliefs, values, and strengths by only pursuing to take action in the things that align with you and things you’re passionate about. Another very important one is “Controversy with Civility” which is when groups deal with conflicts head on and sort them out to help the overall level of productivity and to keep moving forward. It often takes a lot of trust within a group to do, but helps the group in the end. Overall the group must act with “Citizenship” the entire time by having active and respectful engagement in the society and not just merely being a member. All of the mentioned aspects and the ones that were not mentioned can be the catalysts for making social changes and doing good in the world (Astin).
Citizenship also plays a very large role in active citizenship. As mentioned, people cannot just be a bystander, they have to be more than just a member in society. In order to be an active citizen, they must be willing to get things done by contributing. People need the “desire to care for the well-being of the larger institution, be it an organization, a neighborhood, or a country” (Block). Overall they need to do what is needed for the society that they are a part of, and not just anything that looks needed from the outside. Having good citizenship means doing what people are saying they need to improve a certain aspect of society, even when you may disagree with it very much and have a different approach. It takes a healthy relationship with some give-and-take to have good citizenship and to make your voice and opinion be heard.
Volunteerism is the third part to being an active citizen and is possibly the most controversial of the five. If the volunteering is not done right, it can be more harmful than it is beneficial to people. For example many people may volunteer to spend hours helping out in a soup kitchen or a food pantry but that isn’t going to help a lot. It will help out for the amount of time that you are volunteering there for. However, this is only a temporary solution to a pressing issue that is plaguing many people. It is also very important to realize what is something that the group needs firsthand instead of assuming and by acting that you know when that thought could be way off. There are many people that crave the satisfaction of completing the short-term help without even realizing that they're doing harm. The reason that people generally tend to do this type of service is because “the work of advocacy is less rewarding than day-to-day contact with needy people. It is less direct. (They) may never see significant change” (Hilfiker). Another example that backs up this quote is how people go overseas to “teach” underprivileged kids. Even though this is very worthwhile and may seem very rewarding, it might be harmful as they could teach things that go against the natives’ cultures. Education might not be on the top of their wish list either, for example the nation might need better sanitation. Thus sometimes, to be an active citizen, you must advocate for taking the longer route to make the more permanent solution work instead of going for the gratifying short-term fix.
The fourth of these important aspects of active citizenship is community. The biggest challenge in any society is establishing a respectful and courteous community environment where everyone can live peacefully. It is also a necessity for people to feel welcome and to feel as if they are being included in the community. There is also not two communities that are exactly alike, “each community boasts a unique combination of assets upon which to build its future… often (containing a) surprising array of individual talents and productive skills, few of which are being mobilized for community-building purposes” (Kretzmann/McKnight 25). I think that generally we need to appreciate what all of the community members bring to the table, even if we think that it won’t be very helpful at initial thought. For example, in Philadelphia they had artists paint the sides of overpasses with paintings that exhibit the city’s storied history which makes the overpasses very appealing and not an eyesore. Part of being an active citizen means appreciating the good of everyone in the community regardless of differences.
The last of the five aspects is leadership and I think that it is one of the biggest pertaining to active citizenship. The thing that leaders must be able to do is “keep hope alive, even in the most difficult of times” (Kouzes). A good leader will be there for the good and bad times and still be willing to do anything necessary to help their team succeed. It is also important to remember that anyone can be a leader, “the quest for leadership is first an inner quest to discover who you are. Through self-development comes the confidence needed to lead” (Kouzes). Everyday people can be leaders in big ways and also very small ways that can present themselves on a daily matter. People just need to choose whether or not they truly want to act upon them or pass them up. A personal saying that I live by is to not pass up any opportunities that are presented to you because you never know if you will be given that opportunity again if you decline it. It is the same thing with leadership opportunities because when you pass up on these opportunities to lead - no matter how big or small - you're not doing your duty of being an active citizen and are not actively caring about the community and society that you are living in.
One of the biggest reasons that I chose to attend Virginia Tech was because of the motto, Ut Prosim or “That I May Serve”. Service to others obviously is a huge part of my life and that is the reason here today that I am writing this essay as a member of Serve. Again everyone’s opinion on what counts as active citizenship is different, but in my eyes it consists of a few things. One of the biggest of those being that the person is actively involved with something, meaning that they don’t just go to school or work and then go back to their house or dorm for the rest of the night. I believe that if they are involved with something else, even if it is just socializing with people, they are being an active citizen. They are working on their people skills and that is the only way that you can increase your opportunities, exchange ideas, and help to impact the growth of society. Active citizenship also means being accepting to others regardless of sex, race, sexual orientation, sexual identity, financial standing, or background. Being able to live within a diverse population adds to the community and can allow for a plethora of ideas to be contributed from people, who some not would have expected. I think that it is a must to include “active” in front of citizenship to differentiate it from citizenship. I feel that citizenship is just a title, for example how I am a citizen of the United States or a citizen of Pritchard Hall. Citizenship can be achieved by anyone by just belonging to a group or living in a certain place. However, active citizenship is something that must achieved by truly being involved in the community and putting in your contributions to help progress the positive outcome and standing of the community. I think that we can co-create new realities for Ut Prosim by influencing some of the reflection aspects that we talk about after Serve and VT Engage trips. The reflection before and after each service trip can lead to students thinking about what impact they are going to make on people, if it is a beneficial or harmful trip, or if they will or did come across any roadblocks or glitches when serving. Even if they just verbally ran through the “What? So what? Now what?” model, it could still help to decipher what service is truly beneficial and what is harmful. I think that as a whole, Virginia Tech does a great job encouraging its students to be active citizens. First I think that they do a fantastic job with making the student body mindful and respectful of other students who may be different than them. They do this by mandating that all freshmen live on campus together, which allows students to mix and get to know and befriend others that they may have never ever associated with otherwise. This creates a very welcoming and family-like atmosphere on campus. Also outside of each door, each person has a list of their strengths from StrengthsQuest posted on the wall outside of their rooms. I think that also helps as people are able to realize each other’s strengths and then can work together with their unique skills and talents to help better society and the community. I think that the school also has so many clubs and opportunities available to students so that they are able to explore whatever passions they have and also to then utilize those passions by helping out the school, other Hokies, or the Blacksburg and new River Valley area. The school also brought a voting station into Squires which really helped to get more students to vote, which leads to social change in the community. I honestly go back and forth on debating if Ut Prosim is just a motto or way of life. I do strongly believe that it depends on the person. For example, it is only a motto for someone that doesn’t go out of their way to help others or to serve the campus and community. However, I do also believe that it is a way of life for others that choose to live by it. Those others being people who are willing to give up some of their little free time that students have each week to do a little service and help better the community. This is also known as their active citizenship as they are looking for ways to get involved and to improve our community in any way possible. I think that in order to promote active citizenship on campus, I can go out of my way to promote VT Engage, by telling friends on campus about some of the awesome trips that it has. Many of those trips are alternative break ones, which all sound very interesting. I also can encourage people to join me on some of the fun service trips I have done in the past such as ReNew the New and the Montgomery County Christmas store. These trips were a lot of fun and I know that many people would be interested in them had they known about the opportunity. Virginia Tech can also get more students to be active citizens by putting up more advertisements for possible opportunities that students can be a part of in order to get involved in the community. They could put these advertisements in monthly emails possibly or in cafeterias by the checkout registers. They could also create an incentive system such as free food for helping out or getting involved in the Blacksburg community a certain number of times. I think that this could work but it completely eliminates the purpose of “volunteering” and active citizenship. One final idea that Tech could do is by planning more days where students and locals can interact and get to know each other a little bit more in the warmer months. This way the community can become more closely knit and will be more productive and will care more for each other.
As this semester is winding down, I’m finally able to sit down and reflect about how far I’ve come without worrying about getting my next assignment completed. One experience that I felt that I was just a “volunteer” on was the ReNew the New Trip. It was during only my first few weeks here on the campus and I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t really know anyone in Serve yet or in the community. I also wasn’t very critical or analytical of my service experiences yet, as I had missed the retreat and wasn’t sure how volunteering could be harmful in the slightest. I just completed the volunteering, had fun, and thought nothing of it. Now looking back on the experience, I can see it goes a lot deeper and I can see a few ways that it could have been more harmful than good. One thing, for example, is that we were fishing tires and other pieces of trash out of the bottom of the river: pieces of trash that animals may have made into habitats. I do think that I have grown an awful lot since the start of August and school. I have been able to grow in numerous ways such as being able to now determine if a volunteering effort is worth it in regards to it helping or hurting people. That was definitely something that I was not able to do in the beginning of the year and now I am able to look back at some of my earlier service experiences here and see what I could have done differently, like I did with the ReNew the New trip. I also feel that I have broadened my senses when it comes to service and have started to actively reflect on the service while I am doing it. That was something I had never really done in high school. This semester has changed my views on volunteering by an incredible amount. I had never thought that volunteering could be harmful without even realizing that you were doing more harm instead of good. I think that I am also becoming a more active citizen because I am able to realize now that this is the case and I weigh all of the positives and negatives of each volunteer activity before I do it. I also have been telling others about how it is important to pay attention to whether or not their service is good or bad too. It really helps the community when people are truly aware that they need to be careful when helping others, even if they had good intentions. After this semester I can firmly say that I am a conscientious citizen on the active citizenship continuum. I feel that I am aware of all of the social issues and some of the causes that can stem from these issues. I do not believe that I have completely become an active citizen yet. As I progress to next semester, I want to keep moving towards that and will also work hard to continue the level of citizenship that I have right now. I also plan to increase my active citizenship levels and responsibilities over my remaining years at Virginia Tech, and I plan to increase other people’s awareness of it too.
When it comes to community service, I think many people are lost. People who are trying to go out of their way to help others are seeing what has to be done to help out and then doing it. Of course it is beneficial and most logical to figure out a problem and then hit the problem right on to fix it. This is a good way to go about things when talking about service, but it is not the most effective way to do it.
Overall the global community is best off when people pursue and take action on the activities that they are the most passionate about. When people are passionate about a certain activity and are happy when doing it, they will do a better job on the task at hand. People just need to discover the activity or aspect of service that makes them excited and gets themselves fired up. If they can find those certain aspects and apply them to better themselves, there is a very good chance that they in turn will help to better the world or even local community at the same time. People need to find these things which lead to moments where people can feel alive.
There are a number of moments in which I have felt alive that have led to me achieving more through my service experiences. One of the biggest things that I am passionate about is making others smile. When I am able to do that, I feel really good inside and get more done; which betters myself and the group I’m helping at the same time. One example of that was when I participated in a spoof guy’s beauty pageant for seniors that were nominated by teachers. We had practices for over a month in advance of show night as we learned funny choreographed dances and each came up with funny talents. The goal of the entire show was to raise as much money as possible in this one night to donate to research for a rare type of cancer that doesn’t have government funding. In the weeks leading up to the shownight, I was doing my best to add humor to my dance moves and my talent. For my talent, I wore a hot dog costume and danced around on stage while telling puns about hot dogs. It was so bad that it was funny and I could hear the sold out crowd of about 800 people laughing and see the first rows smiling. There was also no advertising for the show, so us ten guys went around the entire school during lunches the week of the show promoting it and making fools out of ourselves to get people to come. It was so much fun and was for a great cause. I made myself more confident, gave the audience a ton of reasons to laugh, and us ten contestants raised $6,000 in one night, so everyone benefitted at the same time.
Another time I feel alive is when I get to interact with people. It excites me when I get to know others while I am working on a task. I really love getting to know and hear everyone’s complete story. As we learned in class, everyone has their own unique one and is able to tell each one a little bit differently which is something that I think is so cool. When I volunteered in the hospital in my town, I was able to meet and interact with people that came from so many different backgrounds. There were elderly people, young kids, and also the occasional high school or college kid that came in that I was able to talk to in order to have them feel welcomed to the hospital and more comfortable. I also was able to feel this feeling when I helped my local Kiwanis club with making holiday cards to give to elderly members of the community who didn’t have anyone to spend the holiday with. We were then able to go and deliver those cards to them and it was so worthwhile being able to see the way that their faces and spirits lit up when they received the cards.
Both of these service events and a lot of the other ones I have completed involve pleasing others to make myself feel better which in turn makes the service experience turn out better for myself and the party I’m doing it for or with. Thus I have come to the conclusion that at this point in my life, I feel most alive when I interact with people and can see myself making a difference in their lives. There are easily ways that these can change over the years and how I can find new ways that I am able to feel alive. I am going to continue to pursue my passions and then let them ingrain themselves into my service habits. Thus I can contribute to society in my best ways possible rather than trying to be someone that I’m not to fit the mold of something that I’m not particularly passionate about and won’t get behind as easily.
The town that I live in is called Flemington, New Jersey. Have you ever heard of it? I’d put one-hundred dollars on that you haven't heard of it. If you say that you’ve heard of it, you’re either lying or happen to have driven by it on the highway on your way to the Jersey Shore or New York City. It is a very tiny town in a rural community. It lies fifteen minutes from the Pennsylvania border. It is a town that has some history to it, but by no means enough to get its name in a history textbook. It is a town with a dying main street that is dead quiet at 9:30 on a friday night. It is a town known as “that town with the ‘Premium’ outlets”. It is a town where people grow up and then raise their kids in the town too.
The high school in Flemington was made in 1956. It is the high school that I attended. It is also the high school that some of my friends’ parents had graduated from too. Even some of our teachers had graduated from the high school too, went to a college, and came back to teach there. It is a public high school that is also a regional high school and draws in near 3200 kids from more than six surrounding towns. It can be a forty-five minute drive to home for some students traversing roads that go through local farms. There are so many farms that when the car windows are open, the smell of cow and horse manure fills the vehicle. If you look online, the county is consistently ranked in the top ten in the United States as being one of the richest counties. To students at surrounding high schools in the area, they refer to our school as that really huge one where kids get lost travelling between the 900 classrooms and six buildings. They think that you never get to see anyone that you know and that the school environment isn’t a close knit one. They also think that students at the school are too “spoiled” or “rich white farmer kids” who really don’t care about anyone and get what they want from their parents.
These viewpoints just simply are not true. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her TED talk, it is dangerous to receive just one single story. There are many different sides to each and every story. That is where people are wrong about my high school. I will agree that it is a very big school and that there are a lot of people wandering the campus that is like a small university campus. The part that makes the school special though is that the community is very close knit and cares deeply about each other. Many people on the outside are very unaware of the tight bonds that we share as students at the school. In recent years, we have tragically had six deaths consisting of students, teachers, and recent alumni. In my graduating class alone, we sadly lost three classmates along our four year journey. Our school community got even closer as we mourned our passing classmates. At graduation, we still included them. We left their seats in their spots on the football field for graduation, each empty chair with a balloon tied to it. There was also peaceful music being played at one part of the ceremony as one white dove was released for each of them. Even those that we ourselves may have never had the chance to personally meet, everyone paid their respects to the person. There were moment of silences everyday for a period of time commemorate them as the entire school was silent at the same time. There was also other small things that we carried out to remember those classmates we had lost. The school had created a special little tribute to one of our classmates that had tragically lost in the horrible Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. It is a tribute with a small little plaque talking about his life and has benches around it. There are always students using the benches and observing his tribute. We also had a student-athlete baseball player pass away in 2012. After he passed away, everyone wore a certain color to school, even those of us who were in middle school at the time. People also wrote “12” on their hands, as that was his number.
The thing that I am most proud of is that my school is actually a very close-knit community. We all care about each other and are so very passionate about our classmates. The school is really good at keeping those that we have tragically lost in our lives. We keep them in our everyday lives and don’t forget about the impact that they had on us and our school’s community. Even the people that we lost years ago like in 2007 and 2012 are still in our minds. Otherwise we wouldn’t have known anything about it, which most likely would be the case at other high schools. Our high school’s community is a special one that is very warm and welcoming. Even when I happen to cross paths with past alumni at Virginia Tech that I have never met before in high school, they are always so helpful with advice and offer rides back home. My story of the high school is different than what every onlooker of the high school says. They haven’t been a part of the community and thus don’t know anything about the close bonds that are so deeply present in the community. It is a lot deeper than a bunch of kids living in such a small town surrounded by highways and corn.
When a team is formed, the first thing that must be done is assessing what the team has. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and it is just something that is important to keep in mind. Each strength that is different can help your team hurdle more and different obstacles and challenges that the team faces. One of the most important things to is to make everyone feel welcomed no matter what their strengths may be; make them feel at home. It is ideal and very important to have the realization that matter who the person is or what their background looks like, they have strengths to them that they are very good at. The thing is that many people often do not realize that they are gifted in a certain strength until someone brings it up to them. The big mix of personality traits, life experiences, and overall roots of a person can completely shape someone’s strengths. Those roots of a person are things that keep them grounded being passions that that pursue or having a unique skill. This is one thing that I love to do when I meet people, I just love getting to know them and figuring out their strengths so I can help them have success using them.
I have begun to notice my strengths in life and am starting to be able to see how I actually use them almost consistently on a regular basis. Regarding the Serve community, I believe that I go out of my way to learn and put in as much effort into my work as possible. I like to keep the group atmosphere light and have fun while still staying productive.One of my strengths is “Learner”, which means I love to keep learning new things and have a desire to keep gaining more knowledge. I get this from Serve by hearing to what others have to say and learning about their experiences. I also do this by learning about new ways to go and put myself out there in the Blacksburg community in order to help out citizens in different ways and opportunities. Another of my strengths that I have learned to use well is my strength of being a “Maximizer”. This means that I help people discover what their personal strengths are. Then I can help find roles for them on the projects that best suit their strengths. This will help to maximize the different projects that we do. It can help a lot on service trips and volunteer opportunities that I get involved with during my time in Serve. For example someone might be better at organizing things for us, another person might like to take the lead and help plan out the plan of action, and someone else might be very creative and help with design.
On the Virginia Tech community and campus, I feel that my strengths could be felt in a bigger way than when compared to the tight-knit Serve community. Another of my strengths is “Consistency”. This one means that I will work my best to treat everyone the same way and not treat people differently because something about them. From when I first meet people, I hold to the same behaviors and ways of treating people with respect until they give me a reason to not respect them (Doesn’t happen much). I also have “Harmony” as one of my strengths. This one means that I don’t like it when there is conflict arising and that I do my best to ensure that people don’t get upset at me or others. It works well if someone is having issues with someone in the group or just somebody else that they know. My last strength that I have is “Includer”. It sounds like it is, that I work to include others no matter who they are. I feel that these three traits especially can help out on the Virginia Tech campus.
When I combine all of these strength together, they can really make a difference in the bigger scope of the community such as the New River Valley. Any service project we participate in over the course of our time in Blacksburg, these strengths can be used in a positive light in order to help out the team effort. As John McKnight, a person wise in the topic of building community once said; “Community is built by focusing on people’s gifts rather than their deficiencies” (Page 12). People need to be able to see the strengths that other people possess and then can utilize those strengths to help out. I believe that is the initiative that Virginia Tech is working towards and I think it will really help students out as they continue to learn. After being a student here at Virginia Tech for about a month or so now, I have come to embrace my strengths. I hadn’t ever thought of them before coming here but now I feel that I am more aware of them in situations in my everyday life. My skills that I had already known about consisting of commitment and dedication to helping people were things that I had already known about. Now at this moment, I feel that I am able to better connect and intertwine the skills and strengths to contribute more from the small Serve LLC level all the way up to the bigger New River Valley and beyond.