A Reason to be Optimistic

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to volunteer with several of my peers and a group of Duke University students. The project we worked on was to shovel and spread mulch on church grounds. Luckily, the weather was nice that day and the humidity was relatively low. We were able to move a large amount of mulch that morning, but more importantly that experience left me with a renewed sense of optimism about our future. I want to share with you my part of this experience.

I am an optimist, and I always try and see the best in every situation. During the past three years, the economic climate has certainly made it a bit harder to keep my optimistic outlook, but I continue to believe that we’ll see the economy recover, unemployment drop and a sense of relief shared across the global economy. How long will this take? I don’t know. I’d prefer it to happen much sooner, rather than later, as we all do. In the meantime, I look for signs of encouragement and inspiration outside of the daily stock market returns, and this volunteer opportunity provided this experience.

The week before Duke students begin their fall classes, they have the opportunity to come to campus early and create new bonds with fellow students and within the Durham community. We had eight student volunteers, five freshmen and three upper classmen. These eight students came from a variety of backgrounds and regions of the country. For this week, they were working together because they all shared a common bond of wanting to be involved in their new community through volunteer work.

I was impressed by their willingness to work together and amazed by the skills they were all able to share with each other as the morning and afternoon progressed. As the mulching went on, I learned that in the evenings the group would gather and share stories of where they grew up and the challenges and dreams they had already encountered and accomplished. They all came from different places as strangers and will leave this weeklong experience as friends. After moving into their freshman dorms they’ll know that at least seven friendly faces on campus.

The sense of optimism I had came from seeing how these students, who carried themselves in a professional and courteous manner, would be the next generation of government leaders and CEOs. I can see that when these young achievers put their minds to the task, they will certainly be innovative and have tremendous accomplishments in the years ahead. By working together with people they never would have had met otherwise, they are building the crucial skills needed to help resolve conflict and developing a respect for the opinions of others.

I know that other colleges and universities have similar programs in place. As you see your children or grandchildren head off to college, encourage them to find out if an opportunity like this exists and encourage them to be involved. The freshmen students were able to learn their way around the campus, the new city they’d be spending at least the next four years of their lives in and more importantly they were able to make some of their first campus friends. The benefit to the other classmen is they were able to share their experiences with the newest class of freshmen and provided an opportunity to build their own leadership skills.

If your child’s university doesn’t have a program in place, encourage your children to lobby the campus administration and student government to create a program. For those of us who have been out of college a few years, find a way to volunteer with these students so you can see firsthand the potential that the latest generation of young leaders have. Hopefully, you’ll catch the optimism, like I did, that these young minds provide us.

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