“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
These hallowed words resonate in American history as significant not only because they sound catchy, but because they are symbolic of the belief that each individual in every community can do their part to make the nation as a whole even better. Almost 52 years later, I would like to echo this belief to my fellow students at the College of William and Mary.
The opening days of official student elections were met with great zeal and excitement by the ambitious within the student body. Winners rejoiced while losers put on a brave face. Days before voting began, one of my hallmates, who was a candidate for the Student Assembly, came into my room panicking. As I listened to him pour out his anxiety, it occurred to me that his ideas of opportunities for participation within the community were limited. I reminded him that his passion for public service need not be strictly limited to the SA Senate. I urge all students to look beyond these official positions and instead find other ways to contribute to the greatness of this school. As alluring as the title of “Class President” or “SA Senator” may sound, there are always multiple roads that lead to the same destination.
Never forget that you are part of an institution that provides so many opportunities for you to do so much. This school offers options for students to join or to create their own community service clubs and trips. As a graduate of a New England preparatory boarding school, I have witnessed and understood how often even the most brilliant and most ambitious students can narrow their vision. My school concentrated heavily on politics; there was little focus beyond that. My advice to you is simple: Do not think you must hold a title in order to make a difference. Every person contributes something, and it does not take a CEO or the President of the United States to make an impact on the community.
Being accepted to the College means you are an individual with myriad accomplishments and awards. Perhaps you served on your high school’s student council. Maybe your athletic talents brought you here. For whatever reason, you were identified as a hard working, creative and intelligent individual. By default, you have the potential to do something huge and can leave an everlasting legacy as a student of the College through a variety of outlets.
My last challenge to you: Find another outlet through which you can pursue your passions. If the availible options do not suit you, create your own. Go beyond convention. Think differently. Creativity drives progress in communities. Every student is accountable for his actions, and your legacy at the College will be founded on your decisions and actions that affect the greater community. Do not give up on all options when you are deprived of one, do not wait until someone else makes an impact, and do not hesitate to act when you have an idea. Our proud predecessors have sought ways to improve the community for centuries; now it is our turn to do the same. We can do this by providing a bright pathway for future generations to continue to lift our great traditions rather than sink into a sea of complacency and mediocrity.
Email Benming Zhang at firstname.lastname@example.org.