One was an old man named Thurman and I had just rescued his model airplane from a tree. He was a professor at Foothill who came to Lake Lag once a week to fly his friend’s model planes. His friend had died a few years back, and Thurman had promised to fly them. To quote Thurman, “I am not about to break a promise to a friend.”
Another was a young Yemeni I met near the summit of Kilimanjaro. His name eludes me, but I recall him saying that he was carrying his friend’s ashes to the top of the mountain. Mountaineering was something they had wanted to do together.
There was this guy I worked with in a South African township who spent his own money on recorders so the kids could learn music. He would even spare some time to teach them piano.
There was a bodybuilder in Athlone, Cape Town, who opened up a gym, at great financial cost to himself, so that the teenagers would have a place to go after school. I was fortunate enough to lift with him.
In Jordan I met with a group of women who took young girls out of the refugee districts to participate in a summer camp. It was a place for the girls to adventure, play and make friends. Their memories of that place will always be fond.
Lastly, there are my parents. Whenever I tell them about my summer options, or the courses I am taking, they comment on how that is something they would have loved to do. It was not until last week that I realized they never had the chance to do it. Still, I have never heard a grudging word when it comes to funding or support.
All these people know that the most important thing you can do in life is serve others. For them, service is never a question. Their service is a way of giving back to the world. Carrying your friend’s ashes to the top of a mountain is not going to solve hunger. Being dedicated to your friends, though, no matter what it takes, will certainly ignite change. Putting others before yourself takes the realization that you are not the center of the world. That your problems might not be nearly as large as someone else’s. It takes the realization that your schedule will never be as important as a human being.
This all clicked for me on Saturday morning when my teammate and I were doing a rugby workout at Steuber Field. There was a girls’ club soccer game going on and a little 8-year-old boy had been dragged by his mother to watch. I saw him playing with some of our equipment. Rather than telling him to bugger off, I invited him to join us. He ran the agility ladder and belted out some pull-ups. We even got him a little five-pound weight so he could do some cleans. I looked at how happy, active and involved he was and thought, “This kid is going somewhere.” Sure, it slowed our workout down, and we had to make sure he wasn’t going to hurt himself, but those types of things fall by the wayside when you are serving someone.
That was when I realized that we are now the present. For all of our lives we had been the future. Our parents told us about all the wonderful things we would do, and how the world would be bettered by our presence. They beamed when they thought about how we would carry their mantle into the future. As children, we would be lifted onto their shoulders to get a better view of the world. Expectations were pinned to our futures. That future is now.
The burden of being the present means we have a duty to that little boy. We need to make sure that he grows up with honest, decent men to look up to. Ultimately, we need to serve children like him. Our lives need to be dedicated to making the world a better place, so when we lift them on our shoulders they will not shudder at the sight.
If you are at Stanford, I can assure you that you have the skills necessary to better the world. You have the skills needed to make sure that that boy does not grow up in a world at war. To make sure he does not feel alone or isolated. You have the ability to generate ideas and technologies that can eliminate hunger and cure diseases. You can be a motivated teacher who inspires or a responsible policeman who protects. You not only have the skills to make the world a better place – you have the mandate.
That mandate does not begin at graduation. It does not begin in med school or at your first job. It begins now. We are no longer the future, we are the present. It is time to start acting like it.
Contact Chris Herries at firstname.lastname@example.org.