Week of Celebration, Day of Service
Senior Week was a blast. A cruise, a wine tasting, a luau, a trip to an amusement park, a soiree, and a BBQ were just some of the events on the agenda. The class of 2010 had a fantastic time, and the Senior Class Committee deserves kudos for organizing such a fun week. I think, however, that Senior Week should have included a day of public service to balance out all of this fun.
The truth is that the Senior Week schedule reflects a tension internal to the Commencement process. On one hand, many of the Commencement speakers will talk about the tremendous capacity that the class of 2010 has to serve our communities, our country, and the world. We will be praised for our strengths and encouraged to use our gifts to improve society and humanity. At the same time, most of the class of 2010 already have their plans for next year locked up. If the past is any indication, many Harvard seniors will be taking competitive, individualistic, and personally rewarding jobs next year. And how many seniors are committed to volunteering for public service after a long, stressful day of work? The Commencement ceremony will urge seniors to make the world a better place, but most seniors have already chosen to focus on personal betterment.
There’s nothing wrong with personal betterment. Every individual has the right to work hard to pay off student loans, to live comfortably and support a family. But it’s not right for these personal aspirations to be our only ones. A good, moral life balances personal goals with communal ones. Yes, one should work toward a career that is personally fulfilling, but one should also work to help others, to better one’s community, and to “serve better thy country and kind.” What’s crucial to life, when properly lived, is balance.
The Senior Week schedule does not reflect the proper balance, and, as a consequence, it sends the wrong message to our graduating class. How seriously are we to take exhortations toward public service after we’ve spent a full, Harvard-funded week eating, drinking (a lot), and enjoying ourselves? Yes, many of us have worked very hard in college, and, of course, this is our last chance to spend time with many of our friends. But how about a little bit of balance?
The perfect way to balance Senior Week would be to add a day of service to the list of activities. The class of 2010 should have spent one day applying our muscle to soup kitchens, parks, or schools throughout the Boston area. It would have been a day full of symbolic and educational significance. It would be symbolically significant, because it would represent Harvard’s commitment to public service. But it would also be the perfect way to cap off a Harvard education in a way that’s consonant with the institution’s professed values.
It is too late to organize this for the class of 2010. So, to the class of 2011—how about it? When you plan your Senior Week activities next year, consider whether all of the parties and celebrations perhaps focus a bit too much on the self, and not enough on others. Consider also whether the week represents what a Harvard education is really all about. Please consider scheduling a day of service as part of the Senior Week activities.
Michael B. Pershan ’10 is a philosophy concentrator in Eliot House.