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Making a Difference

March 12, 2010

When we think about people who have had an impact on society or made a difference in changing the way we live, we often think about political leaders, social activists, or scientists. In fact, one of the most influential people in U.S. history was a woman who galvanized thinkers, activists, and everyday adults with her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book on the evils of slavery was incredibly powerful; what might have seemed a “mere” work of fiction became the rallying point of an entire movement. So it was an amazing experience to sit in the parlor of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center recently to lead a discussion about young people making a difference in society. The conversation was a lively one, with an audience of all ages examining what it means to change society. We debated whether this was a new phenomenon, the extent to which the media definitions of recent generations have been accurate, and even what constitutes “making a difference.”

We left with the optimistic view that young people of today increasingly want to make a difference. I was pleased to be able to cite several examples of the efforts of Saint Joseph College students. They regularly volunteer to give medical screenings to the working poor through the “Wellness Center” in downtown Hartford, raise both money and awareness in the fight against cancer, serve as “buddies” to special needs children, and even develop their own environmentally-sustainable projects. Groups of students have spent spring breaks working for Habitat for Humanity, and making annual trips to Guyana to provide medical assistance and social services. Simple acts of generosity can lead to serious social impact over time.

It is encouraging to contemplate and discuss the role that each of us, whether young or old, may play in changing our society and lives for the better. As always, however, the next step is for us to actually take the next step.

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