Finding Citizen Change-Makers at Boarding School
Today's guest blogger is Hannah McConnaughay, an Outreach Education and Training Associate at the Interfaith Youth Core. Hannah graduated in June of 2008 from the University of Chicago, where she studied religious studies and economics and was a member of the Interfaith Youth Core's Fellows Alliance.
I expected to be jealous of my friends, neighbors, and colleagues who were in Washington, D.C. for the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama. I thought that I would resent having to work on such an historic occasion, when I could have crashed on my college roommate's couch and watched Obama address the country from the National Mall instead of from a television screen.
I had been in Grant Park in Chicago on Election Day and watched Barack Obama accept his election to the Presidency. Election Day in Grant Park was not only the night on which the man who had been my State Senator and then my U.S. Senator became my President. At 22 years old, it was also the first time I experienced the overwhelming feeling that comes with helping to make history. I was in the thick of it, and after that incredible experience, I hoped to watch Inauguration Day live as well. But work interfered.
As a Trainer with the Interfaith Youth Core, my job is to travel to universities, high schools, and civic organizations in order to teach people the skills they need to become interfaith leaders. On the weekend of Obama's Presidential Inauguration, I was on a training trip to the outskirts of Baltimore, at an all-girls boarding school called St. Timothy's.
As it turned out, there is no place I would have rather been on Inauguration Day.
Over the course of my time at St. Timothy's, I had the opportunity to serve with the school's young women at a free library, see them learn the tools of storytelling and dialogue, and discuss with them how they might use those tools to answer our President's call to a "new era of responsibility."
I was blown away.
The young women at St. Timothy's not only committed to serving their communities and their school during the Obama administration, they also shared the conviction that their generation will be the generation of religious pluralism, where lines of difference will not prevent people from working together to better their communities.
St. Timothy's is a strongly identified Episcopalian school, and its religiously diverse students told me that they appreciated both their school's commitment to engaging their diversity and its commitment to chapel. One student told me that while she appreciates her mother's childhood in an all-Catholic neighborhood, that situation has just never been her American reality. She has always had diverse schools, and has found that diversity of friendships inspiring. Ayesha Ibrahim, a senior, talked about how "religion [in our society] can be misconstrued to be negative yet [is] positive when interreligious conversation is encouraged."
As I heard about these young women's activities repairing local animal shelters, painting elementary schools, and providing food for the struggling, I saw how they walked their talk, acknowledging their strong differences but working together to provide needed services.
Pretty soon, I realized that I was spending my Inauguration weekend with the people that President Obama was talking about in his Inaugural address, the citizen change-makers who are waking up with a "spirit of service," working with their neighbors, and taking pride in their nation. In the weeks since visiting St. Timothy's, I've only become more convinced that that's right where I need to be.
At the University of San Francisco and Dartmouth College, I've met students planning to spend their spring breaks feeding and advocating for housing the homeless in California and rehabilitating homes in the Dominican Republic. These young people are healing their own country and acting as its ambassadors. In these students I am reminded again and again of the nation that our President has called us to be.
What I learned during the Inauguration, and in the tumultuous weeks since, is that in electing President Obama we've put our hopes in a man who put his hopes for change in us. If the young people I've met are any indication, Obama made a great bet.
The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.
February 5, 2009; 2:07 PM ET
Religion & Leadership
Religion & Politics
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