These remarks were made by Michelle Sterk Barrett at the Ignatian Volunteer Corps Friendraiser on 11/30/17
I’m delighted that we are gathered here at the U.S. Presidential Museum in Worcester because I think the U.S. Presidency, at its best, is intertwined with the concept of service and service is at the heart of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC).
I believe our finest U.S. Presidents (and any elected representative for that matter) are those who approach their leadership as a form of service. As Herbert Hoover said, “Being a politician is a poor profession. Being a public servant is a noble one.” Our ideal Presidents are people who have chosen to offer their skills and talents in service to our nation and our global society. They are people who have heard a call to a greater good and are willing to sacrifice their own personal needs or inclinations to follow that call. This, of course, is not so different from what every IVC member has chosen to do. The IVC member similarly follows a call to sacrifice their own individual needs or preferences for the sake of a greater good.
Along with modeling a form of servant leadership through their own actions, our Presidents are often remembered for the ways they inspire us as citizens to think of the common good and offer our own resources, talents, and gifts in service. Just think of John F. Kennedy’s well known line, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
In more recent days, we have similarly seen our Presidents highlight the importance of service to our nation.
Jimmy Carter, who devoted his life to service through organizations like Habitat for Humanity and the Carter Center said, “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something… My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.
President George H.W. Bush laid the groundwork for Americorps in his presidency and focused our attention on the bright lights of selflessness in communities around our nation. During his inaugural address he stated, “We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a Thousand Points of Light…We all have something to give.”
Bill Clinton played a significant role in spreading both Americorps and service learning on college campuses (which is what my office at Holy Cross does) and said, “Citizen service is the very American idea that we meet our challenges not as isolated individuals but as members of a true community, with all of us working together. Our mission is nothing less than to spark a renewed sense of obligation, a new sense of duty, a new season of service.”
George W. Bush stated, “We are given power not to advance our own purposes nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power and it is to serve people.”
Finally, Barack Obama began his career through serving as a community organizer. As President he stated, “That’s when America soars, when we look out for one another and we take care of each other, when we root for one another’s success, when we strive to do better and to be better than the generation that came before us and try to build something better for generations to come, that’s why we do what we do. That’s the whole point of public service.”
I believe we are at our best as citizens and as a nation when we think beyond our own interests and seek to be in solidarity with and in service to the suffering of our brothers and sisters. While our Presidents ideally model this for us and call us towards such greatness, it is through organizations like the Ignatian Volunteer Corps that everyday citizens can put this calling into action.
So, again, welcome to our Friendraiser at the U.S. Presidential Museum in Worcester. I hope you leave inspired by the greatness that can exist in our nation when our leaders and citizens follow the call to serve.