by Sophia Charles '20
In order to answer whether we do enough through our service requirement at NCS, we must first identify exactly what we are doing. Excellence, service, courage, and conscience. They are four separate words, but the principles conveyed by them are deeply intertwined. Service, at NCS, is integral not only because it poses one of the four ideals for which we strive, but because its very nature encapsulates all of them.
We pursue excellence by “maintaining the highest standards,” by setting goals that honor “the contributions of the entire community.” But who is that community? The most visible version of our community may be the Close, but it does not stop there. We are members of an immediate community that is the residents of the DC-Maryland-Virginia area, not to mention our broader community of individuals that is the world. The contributions of our community are boundless. They are the insightful patience of the veterans at the Armed Forces Retirement Home, the loving diligence of the students at Horizons of Greater Washington, the patient hard work of the learners at For Love of Children, the welcoming warmth of the elderly at IONA House… This list, infinitely inadequate, gives a taste of the contributions offered by our community every day. We must honor them with attentive appreciation, but also with our own contributions, with our service.
We define courage as “conviction, strength, and integrity,” as standing up “for ourselves and others.” It is fairly easy to see how assisting the underserved populations of our surrounding area might translate into standing up for others, but I would argue that it applies nearly as much to standing up for ourselves. To engage positively, selflessly with the lives of others, and through that process, to expose oneself to new perspectives, to new human contexts, is, inherently, to grow in character. Stronger character means firmer adherence to one’s values, greater willingness to stand up for one’s beliefs, and therefore, for one’s own identity. Service entails learning about others and learning about oneself, and these are both processes that require courage.
Similarly, conscience is a product of both self-awareness and awareness of others. In order to “seek ethical responses to life’s challenges,” we must first understand life’s challenges — as we encounter them and as they present themselves in the lives of those around us. Every one of us has difficulties, but the more we serve, the more we address the difficulties of others. We learn about the challenges responsible for shaping the many versions of human nature that compose our society. We become truer citizens of our world.
So, the service requirement: sixty hours out of school, twelve hours in school… It seems like a lot, especially given that our time is not exactly plenteous. But is it worth it? If we have grown in excellence, courage, conscience — indeed, if we have grown to be better versions of ourselves — then yes, it absolutely is. And do we do enough? In other words, does the service requirement do what it is supposed to do? It gives the opportunity for growth, but after that, the answer to that question ultimately lies in the heart and the intent of the one who serves.