Lately, the Villanova community has been in a very service-oriented state of mind due to hosting the annual Special Olympics Fall Festival this past weekend.
All students and student-run organizations had the opportunity to help carry out this much-anticipated event, welcoming athletes as they participated in activities such as bocce, the O-Town ring toss, the karaoke booth, soccer, running and more.
Students gave their time and in return gained the non-tangible reward of the euphoria that is associated with helping others.
The campus-wide volunteering inspired conversation about the idea of service in the student body even after SpO weekend ended, encouraging reflection on the symbiosis of altruism.
The student body was abuzz with talk of how proud they were to host an event that aligned so well with the community values, and those who are new to the University felt especially enriched when actively witnessing a quintessentially Villanova event.
Individuals who volunteered did so out of a sincere desire to give, but the informal consensus seems to be that the athletes we came to know gave us so much more than we could give them.
I began to think about why SpO is so rewarding and finally decided that it stemmed from how true the event is to the nature of genuine service.
In many people’s minds, the common conception of service or volunteering involves a component of business-like utility.
Particularly in applications or resume-building of any sort, the “humanitarian” aspect of a candidate is an unspoken mandate if that individual wants any chance at being seen as eligible for the desired position.
The “quid pro quo” mindset has crept into something as sincere as service, wherein it is now understood that if I do something good for you, you have to help me get something good in exchange.
Thus, an act of “selfless” service is essentially a calculated, entirely selfish move in the game of pretenses—a game everyone is required to play at some point.
However, the fact that SpO at its core is designed to be a volunteer-based effort to simply do good beyond the limits of selfless appearances, proves that those who helped were not looking for recognition, either from the athletes or for any “advancement” purposes.
The smooth operation of the weekend depended heavily on the volunteer hours of many students and many clubs and organizations, with each student representing one sincere, anonymous intention to make a difference.
Furthermore, the idea of service has shifted in recent years due to “how good it looks” for entry into college or another institution, ultimately subtracting from the integrity of true service.
Because of the need to do volunteer work, young people question whether they are doing honest service or they are fulfilling an empty task designed to render the pleasing appearance of philanthropy for some other reason.
The pluralism in the recent notion of volunteerism seems to bewilder students very frequently, especially if they are required to be altruistic.
“If we’re forced to do it, then doesn’t that ruin the point of community service?” one student suggested.
This suggestion proves to be valid as SpO’s success comes from the fact that none of the students were forced to participate in any of it, which guaranteed that those who did volunteer did so 100 percent willingly.
In addition, this sheer desire to help without demanding anything in return allowed the impressive number of volunteers to reap even more of the rewards.
Bringing the meaning of service away from the self-centered purpose of it gave students the opportunity to refocus, if only during the hour they volunteered, so that their thoughts revolved around activities with the athletes rather than themselves and their own personal gains.
Moreover, the success of this past weekend largely seems to be a byproduct of a unique attitude toward volunteering that was refreshingly common throughout the SpO activities on campus.
Students seemed to consider the athletes their equals, rather than lesser human beings in any way, which enabled volunteers to gain more from their time with the guests on campus.
Those that volunteered viewed the athletes as people who are no different from anyone else.
This mentality gave the Villanova community the capacity to learn from the athletes, to think like them, and to relate to them— rather than merely to “help them.”
The Villanova community set out to serve the athletes this weekend and give them positive memories to walk away with.
However, the collective sentiment by the end of the weekend was that the volunteers took away just as much positivity from the service experience as did the athletes and other guests on campus.
We gave them our entertainment, our time and resources and our campus, but they shared with us their unrestrained excitement, their joy, their appreciation and their untainted ability to see the simple beauties of life.
Furthermore, the University will look forward to future successes each year during Special Olympics. SpO weekend has become one of Villanova’s most expansive and valuable community events of the entire academic year.
The proud, annual tradition of SpO continues to deliver genuine service to the special athletes and a rewarding experience to its volunteers—reflecting the sublime fulfillment of our values.
And as a community, all we can do now is participate in other community service opportunities in anticipation of saying, “We can’t wait for Special Olympics next year!”