Today was UCLA’s New Student Volunteer Day and although it sounds unimportant, it actually was the largest organized volunteering service in any college. It was so big that UCLA began flashing lights into the sky two to three days in advance to announce to the city and the world about the mission that was about to unravel.
The previous day was filled with opening doors. In the morning we had an ENORMOUS student activities fair that showcased many of the clubs and sororities/fraternities the school had the offer. And in the evening, we had introductory speeches from important figures in UCLA including the guest speaker, Steve Callahan. YES! That’s right, the producer and writer of Family Guy. I don’t know why, but it was so awesome to see him in person. I mean, I admit, I watch Family Guy on a regular basis because despite it’s vulgarity, it does dish out the points without dousing it in bs. The Chancellor also began naming many of the other people who had walked the paths of UCLA. I don’t know why, but just hearing those names and seeing that regular, every day people morphed from being part of the crowd, to a hero. And although they are role models, the Chancellor’s right, we are all role models. The day we began to express our own opinions and individuality was the day we signed the contract of being a model for those around us. We affect them one way or another. Sure, our impact may not be as large as Michelle Kwan’s. Not YET anyway. But there’s still an impact.
Which is why I was truly excited about the volunteering experience today. I know a LOT of people who actually didn’t want to go at all because it was “too early” or “a waste of time”. A little disappointing to hear role models say that. But then they found out it was mandatory, so at 8 AM today, all 8,000 of us freshmen and transfers took buses down to different locations in downtown LA. My group of 800-1,000 kids were brought to Gratts Elementary School and we were separated into our floors to take on different parts of the school. Some groups painted basketball headboards while others painted the lining of the school. Of course, all of the painting involved a little UCLA touch of True Bruin blue. My floor’s job was to paint the handball walls with murals. The side facing the sun was supposed to be the life cycle of butterflies and the other side in the shade was a mural of frogs. Almost 75% of the group ran to the side of the shade, leaving the rest of us to defend for ourselves in the hot sun. So here we are, painting in the unbearable sun in XXL UCLA Volunteer shirts because they ran out OF every other size and to be honest, the mindset at the time was to leave as soon as possible. But then the kids came.
Little first and seconds graders in a line to witness the beautification of their school. The chorus of ‘oos and ahhs’ and ‘thank yous’ from their sweet little voices left a permanent smile on my face for the rest of the time. They were so happy that their school was getting a makeover that they didn’t care that we were barely freshmen in college with no artistic ability and a tendency to be clumsy. All they cared about were that there were people helping them have the best school possible. Sometimes, I worry that the sentimental value of an item is lost under the quality or monetary value. We have to realize that we are the change. We are the role models whether we like it or not and now is the time to fill those shoes that those around us hold for us.