EDITORIAL: Spirited in our service

Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama promised George Washington University students that she would speak at their May commencement if they can complete 100,000 hours of community service during the school year. The story was picked up by the Associated Press and made hundreds of headlines – the notion of college students relinquishing their selfish ways fulfills the newsworthiness principle of oddity, right?

On Saturday, over 3,000 members of the Villanova community will perform six hours of community service each. You do the math – and in just one day! In four years, the program has grown from its starting number of 1,000 participants.

At Villanova, service is year-round and doesn’t even stop during the breaks in the academic year.

Students go on fall, winter and spring service break and Habitat for Humanity trips to places as near as the Bronx and as far-flung as South Africa. Campus Ministry reports that 350 students participate in the Service Break Experience every fall and spring, with 20-40 students participating in the winter trips.

Freshmen have the RUIBAL program, sophomores have the Service Learning Community, sororities and fraternities have philanthropy events and the rest of us have Habitat day trips, once-a-week COV trips into Philadelphia, Rays of Sunshine, Special Olympics, Best Buddies, Bigs and Littles, Balloon Day and more.

Greek Life alone performed at least 10,000 hours of community service during the ’07-’08 school year, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life reported. According to Will Stehl of Campus Ministry, the RUIBAL program received 165 applicants for 110 spots this year. He also said that many weeks, students are lined up when the Habitat sign-up list opens. This attitude – so pervasive among students here – is hard to find at most colleges in this country.

Although we’re giving Villanova students a pat on the back right here, it’s one of the few places you’ll hear commendation for our service on Villanova’s campus. The Augustinian tradition implores us to serve; the Augustinian tradition also implores us to do it quietly.

You’ll hear on the Blue Key tour that as a whole, we’re renowned for our service. You won’t, however, hear your roommate talk about how many hours he spent in the cold for Special Olympics, listen to Habitat volunteers brag about their day of hard labor at a party that night or hear any supercilious attitudes in the van rides back from Philadelphia.

The willingness to serve and the attitude to do it without reward and showmanship are core Villanova values. Yes, in four years we earn degrees, rack up academic accolades, forge strong friendships, learn more about ourselves and create countless memories. The spirit of service that is unmistakably Villanova’s own, though, may be one of the most important things that we take with us.