MEANEY AND HOYT: Earning Greatness Through Service
The State of Nature
Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 16, 2012 18:04
We boldly titled our column this past year “The State of Nature.” However, perhaps we would have been better off calling it “The State of Georgetown.” We’ve covered topics ranging from the Facebook habits of Georgetown students to our dating culture, plus many issues in between. Today, we hope to analyze one last provocative question: Is Georgetown a great university?
There are a number of ways to approach the answer. We have a distinguished curriculum and a distinguished faculty. We have a history of producing world leaders. We have a number of renowned programs that are unique and respected. But are we a great university?
There are a number of reasons to answer this question with an emphatic negative. We are underfunded and overextended. Many faculty members are more concerned with tenure than they are with student learning. Student life is stymied by an aggressive bureaucracy that functions better as a hurdle than as a conduit. We as students are frequently selfabsorbed and too dense to reflect on what is important.
But as a community, we rise above these shortcomings because of one simple ideal that defines Georgetown as a great university: service.
At the Lana Landegger Community Service Awards banquet this past Saturday, Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., vice president for mission and ministry, told a remarkable story. He described his time in northeast India, where he was placed at a leprosy clinic as a young Jesuit. Each day, he wheeled sick people back and forth to the doctor to receive new bandages.
Initially, he hated it. The work was monotonous, and the environment in which he found himself was trying. The preferred language was Hindi, and the preferred religion was Hinduism. As an English-speaking Catholic, he struggled for obvious reasons. But his greatest struggle came from more esoteric sources. How did a leprosy clinic in India fit into his work serving the world for God’s greater glory?
An old Jesuit gave him simple advice: “Let them teach you.”
O’Brien then told a story of a young girl named Sona. Sona was abandoned by her family because of her disease and was facing an imminent amputation of her right leg. Sona helped O’Brien every day in identifying which women in the clinic needed fresh bandages. She would indicate to him which woman was next and always placed others before herself.
O’Brien went on to explain how he learned from those he served while in India. Real service did not mean just helping others who were vulnerable. Real service meant allowing the vulnerable and their experiences to shape your mind and heart so that they can continue to grow through service. He learned to let go of his self-preoccupation and to embrace love and service in an entirely new way.
One day, Sona touched O’Brien’s hand when he entered the room. When he placed his hand on her own, she began to cry. O’Brien had touched a person deemed untouchable by society. He said that he learned from Sona the value of human dignity. This was a lesson taught to him not in English or Hindi, but rather through a single touch.
It was a lesson taught to him through service.
Georgetown is a great university because it is a place whose identity is defined by service. This is manifested in Georgetown’s classrooms, its student organizations, its faculty and staff, its students and its mission.
Georgetown is in the business of forming leaders with heart and conscience. There is a great deal of work that goes in to this process: We focus on our studies. We pour endless amounts of time and energy into our extracurricular activities. We navigate the complex social world of Georgetown, an extraordinarily sophisticated endeavor that prepares us well for the worlds of business and politics. We do all this within the context of Georgetown’s unique identity — a house of reason and faith — that trains our minds to integrate the concerns of our hearts.
Mike Meaney is a senior in the School of Foreign Service and Matthew Hoyt is a senior in the College. They are the former president and former director of communications of the Georgetown University Student Association, respectively. This is the last appearance of THE STATE OF NATURE.