A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, the twenty-fifth chapter, beginning at the sixth verse.
6 And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom
cometh; go ye out to meet him.
7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
8 And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
9 But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
12 But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
13 Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
The lesson is clear, especially for those of you who know me well. We all must "Be Prepared". And I bet those of you who know me well can guess what the topic of my talk will be. The founder of the Scouting movement, Lord Baden Powell, was once asked what a Scout should be prepared for. "Why, any old thing," he is reported to have remarked. And that indeed ranges the gamut from being prepared to treat the occasional paper cut to the Second Coming.
"Be Prepared" is so well known it almost seems cliché. Far more relevant to my life is the second part of the Scout Oath--"To help other people at all times". This is an admonition I take most seriously. A brief example: I, in general, dislike swimming. Yet I did not hesitate to sign up for a lifeguarding class when one was offered. It is because of this, the second part of the Scout Oath, that while here at Harvard I broadened my service to organizations other than Scouting. And the rewards have been great.
I teach CPR for the Red Cross, an activity that is simultaneously rewarding and frustrating. Rewarding because empowering someone to save a life is a very humbling moment. Frustrating because I have yet to teach a class of more than five people. Yet the frustration is obliterated knowing that there is a chance that the skills I have taught others may very well save a life.
And then there is my weakness: giving blood. For the past four years I have seen posters in the Yard and elsewhere advertising blood drives and encouraging me to give blood. It took me until this past December to finally bite the bullet and give blood. It took an hour, but that was one of the most rewarding hours I have spent. At the end of the lengthy process, I was shown the pint of blood I had just donated. Still somewhat woozy from having been a donor, I held it in my hands, both pondering whether a "pint's a pound the world around" and the power of what I held in my hand to help other people. Yet the national blood supply is at terribly low levels. [I've since found out that I am type O-positive, which, besides being the most common type of blood, is also valid for transfusion to 85% of the world's population.]
In my role as President of Harvard Friends of Scouting, I attend meetings of the Public Service Network, a program run out of Philips Brooks House whose purpose is to improve communication between public service groups that are not under the PBHA umbrella. At these meetings, the question that is asked the most is "How can we get more volunteers?" The Crimson last year wrote a series of articles on how the Class of 2006 wasn't flocking to Philips Brooks as they were expected. At the same time, University administrators suggested that perhaps the College was placing too much of an emphasis on extracurricular activities and not enough on the classroom. President Summers was keen to ensure that Harvard was not a summer camp. Having staffed summer camps for seven years, I feel that I can say with some degree of certainty that Harvard is not a summer camp; the grounds are far too landscaped for that. Also, summer camps don't grant tenure.
All joking aside, this is a serious matter. My life has been so enriched by community service it is impossible to imagine my life without that facet of it. And I have been transformed in a relatively short amount of time. I can recall, as a first year, fantasizing about how nice my house would be, were I to make millions with my Harvard education. Now, after two years service on this church's Grants Committee, I fantasize about how many millions I could give certain organizations. It is a powerful transformation that I have experienced.
What is sad, of course, is how few people on this campus seem to have experienced it. With a curricular review now in the works, serious attention should be given to the role of community service in the College. That someone can go four years at Harvard without lending a helping hand at least once is unconscionable. If we are to develop into good citizens, we must not only know who our neighbor is but also recognize our duty to help those of our neighbors who are in need. Harvard students can and should do more community service, be it donating blood, volunteering with one of the many worthy campus service organizations, or preparing themselves to be better citizens by taking a CPR class. By doing so we can come closer to Fosdick's Second Coming. I'm [getting] prepared. Are you?
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, You have blessed us with gifts beyond our merit. Help us use these gifts to assist those in need and for Thy love for all mankind to be evident in our actions. Make us instruments of Your love and keep us ever mindful of the needs of others. In Your name we pray, Amen.