March 6, 2006

Mark Gearen Calls For Civic Activism

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At The Cornell Commitment Convocation on Friday, Mark D. Gearan, former Peace Corps director and White House deputy chief of staff, proposed a new, national campaign for civic involvement.

His ten-point plan, which he outlined in his keynote address, “Civic Engagement in the 21st Century,” calls on colleges and universities to cooperate with established government agencies to encourage more Americans to volunteer domestically and abroad.

According to Gearan, who now serves as Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ president, fewer and fewer American youth are interested in civics and public service, students avoid social-studies classes and the government is subject to cynicism.

Gearan thinks he has a solution: if every institution of higher education integrated civic involvement into its campus culture, invited more politicians and social activists to deliver public lectures and allotted more funding to student-run service organizations, youth would become more active in their communities.

Gearan does not believe young Americans are at fault. According to him, they are hopeful and dedicated individuals, alienated by hidebound elders.

“We really cannot place the blame on young people,” Gearan said. “We are failing them. They are not failing us. Young people believe that our political leadership doesn’t care about them. This is a generation that is idealistic and wants to make a difference. Our challenge is to honor that ambition.”

Although the aspirations of young people are as genuine and noble as earlier generations’, Gearan emphasized the differences.

“This would be a generation of students who might not say, ‘I’m going to change the world,'” Gearan said. “But they would say, ‘I’m going to change my part of the world.'”

Each year, The Cornell Commitment, which oversees The Cornell Tradition, the Cornell Presidential Research Scholars and the Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars, invites members of the University and Ithaca communities to celebrate the students whom the scholarships benefit and service itself.

Kristine M. DeLuca-Beach, director of The Cornell Commitment, praised the assembled beneficiaries and their varied accomplishments.

“These are an incredible group of students,” DeLuca-Beach said. “Their influence extends beyond the borders of our campus.”

The convocation began with an informal open house in the Kennedy Hall lobby. Students and community members chatted about research and service work as they enjoyed cranberry juice and hors d’oeuvres.

After a short introduction by De-Luca Beach, Shashi Bhat ’06, Anne Choike ’06, Santhi Gollapalli ’06 and Eric Wilson ’06 expressed their gratitude for the aid they received as Cornell Commitment students.

Bhat, who edits The Cornellian, credited The Cornell Tradition as “the reason [she] first came to this university.” The scholarship’s generous summer support allowed her to intern with Simon & Schuster last year.

As Cornell Presidential Research Scholars, Choike, who studies biogeochemistry, traveled to Poland to study farming techniques, while Gollapalli has researched risk perception and breast cancer.

Wilson, who is on the executive board of the Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars, spoke of the scholarship glowingly and gratefully.

“My experience as part of [the Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars] has truly been one of leadership and learning,” Wilson said.

Each year, The Cornell Commitment honors a member of the greater Ithaca community with the Debra S. Newman ’02 Cornell Tradition Community Recognition Award. Todd Hilgendorff ’02, who works as an eighth-grade teacher, presented the award to Ron Havard, a member of the Ithaca Lions Club who volunteers across Tompkins County and was especially recognized for his work at the Ithaca Senior Center.

“Mr. Havard and his accomplishments are inspiring and encouraging,” Hilgendorff said.

In his brief acceptance speech, Havard reflected on what service means to him, and encouraged the students in the audience to continue volunteering after they graduate.

“Service means being in the community – being involved,” Havard said. “Life doesn’t stop when you leave Cornell,” Havard said. “Your service to the community continues for the rest of your life.”

Archived article by David Gura
Sun Senior Writer