The Meaning of Service and Why It Matters

Amanda Whitten

Community service—all throughout high school it was a term that translated roughly to “that thing you need in order to look good on college applications.” As I embarked on my tenure at Fresno State, I thought service–learning was just a fancy sequel that would likewise translate to “that thing they’re making me do in order to keep my honors college scholarship.” But, as I sat through my Community Service 1 class during the fall semester of my freshman year, a new definition emerged. I helped organize campus blood drives, volunteered to be a conversation partner for foreign exchange students, and worked with underprivileged youth at after school programs, and I slowly realized that community service was no longer akin to prisoners picking-up trash on the highway.

It was that ineffable thing that somehow brought meaning to the slew of forgettable term papers I wrote, inedible dining hall meals I gagged down, and fraternity parties I’d rather forget. It was the thing that brought some meaning to my college experience. It was the thing that bonded me to this community and brought me back here after law school. It was the thing that made me not just a Fresno State alumna but part of the Fresno community as a whole. And, it is the thing that still drives me to do what I can to pay it forward – volunteering as a marathon coach for Team in Training or as an attorney coach for a local high school mock trial team.

My senior year, I had the honor of receiving the Fresno State Student Volunteer of the Year award.  At an awards luncheon, I received a nice plaque and a yellow wooden tulip with a simple ribbon.  I couldn’t tell you where that plaque is now, but that yellow tulip still sits proudly on my bookshelf.  Most people would never guess how much meaning that simple knick–knack holds for me; just like they could never guess how much of a difference service-learning could make in their own journey.