I was struck during the 20th birthday celebration of AmeriCorps in Washington, D.C., last September particularly by the applicability of the AmeriCorps pledge to the strategic connection so many Catholic colleges and universities are trying to forge between their institutional statements of purpose or mission and the real lives of their students.
AmeriCorps was set up in 1993 within the Corporation for National Service as a kind of domestic Peace Corps to engage American volunteers with unmet national needs. The Civilian Conservation Corps had worked in the 1930s; the Peace Corps was doing well overseas. Why not encourage a year or two of volunteer service here at home?
About 1,000 present and past AmeriCorps volunteers gathered in the Andrew M. Mellon Auditorium in downtown Washington for the birthday celebration. All were invited by Wendy Spencer, current CEO of the Corporation on National and Community Service, to recite once again the AmeriCorps pledge. Here is what they recited:
“I will get things done for America — to make our people safer, smarter and healthier. I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities. Faced with apathy, I will take action. Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground. Faced with adversity, I will persevere. I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond. I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.”
Think of the good that would be done if the lofty, idealistic rhetoric of mission statement language could be provided in pledge form for the assimilation and personal commitment of college students who can choose, if they want to, to put legs under the values that their alma maters profess and proclaim.
Capturing those ideals in a pledge that can be taken in the student years and carried out into the post-graduation world could be transformative for the student and the corner of the world he or she will inhabit later on.
Here’s my pledge, let them say. Here’s what it means for me to be a Hoya, or a Don, or a Domer, or a Hawk, or whatever they called me while I was on campus. And these are the commitments I’m taking with me when I leave.
Some Catholic colleges might choose to borrow language from the famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love …” And the many other references in that great prayer to pardon, truth, faith, hope, light, and joy suggest pledge-worthy values for Catholic collegians to commit themselves to. Widespread adoption of such a pledge can transform a campus and add purpose to the lives of those who make that pledge and carry it with them into the world of work.
It works for AmeriCorps and, if the colleges decide to do something along these lines, it will “get things done for America.”
Jesuit Father Byron is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.