What it means to me to have my parent or guardian involved in securing our community.
Graduation: the ever-approaching culmination of senior year. The pinnacle of primary and secondary education is often heralded as the first giant step into adulthood, and rightly so. That short journey across the stage means so much more than a diploma: it means real life is beginning.
However, graduation also offers us the chance to review our childhoods, and how they have contributed to the people we have become. The elementary school playground, awkward middle school dances, high school homework: they all come into focus in an interesting combination of colors and memories, each marking phases experienced and lessons learned along the way.
However, one event stands out to me in my own development, and it's not an event of my own making. It's the choice my dad made to join our community's volunteer fire department eight years ago.
Unlike many other firefighters, my dad wasn't born into a firefighting family. But after the September 11th attacks, our family underwent a paradigm shift. We had always been a community-oriented family, attending fish fries and partaking in Girl Scouts and the like. But the tragedy of that day changed the reality of our world; and the desire to serve our country and community quietly manifested within my family. For my dad, that meant joining as a volunteer for our local fire department.
It was a simple choice for my dad, really. He was never boastful or proud about his new enterprise. Instead, it was almost like it had always been a part of our family routine. He attained more training and education, eventually reaching the rank of Volunteer Lieutenant FF/EMT. His dedication to training and service was never an object of animated discussion among our family; the recognition of his work ethic and commitment was simply a visible affirmation of my dad's quiet, strong character that my family already knew well.
I was only ten when my dad joined the department. However, I have traced my own civic involvement to the same time as my dad's commitment. The year after my dad joined the department, I ran for Student Council for the first time. I loved it. From that point on, I sought opportunities to give back to my school, eventually participating in Freshman Mentoring, Student Council, Newspaper, Prom Committee, and National Honor Society.
As I grew older, I could better recognize the deeper meaning of my dad's choice to get involved, as I began to notice his personal sacrifices such as time, sleep, and effort he made to serve at the fire house. His involvement inspired me to make a more personal difference as well. I started volunteering at the Julian Center, an urban domestic violence shelter, and spent my summers playing with children in the kids' program. It was one of the most beneficial experiences of my youth. I learned how much I have been blessed with, and how important it is for one to give back to his/her community. Even small efforts can make a big difference in the lives of others. Watching those children forget the despair they came from as we played tag together on the playground was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.
Most importantly, I realized that it is my duty to do what I can for those in need. Whether it's a transport to the hospital or the result of an abusive relationship, sometimes people simply need help. My dad's involvement in the fire department helped me realize that a simple contribution to a community can make a world of difference to someone. My dad's example has also taught me the correct way to serve - steadfastly and genuinely.
In my school years, I've had my mind filled with statistics, dates, formulas, maps. Technically, practical knowledge is what I will be celebrating when I receive my diploma. However, as I step into the adult world, I know my most valued lessons are not measured by a piece of parchment. The most important thing I have gained in my childhood is something much deeper and personal. It is the desire my dad's volunteer service has planted within my own heart - the willingness to serve.