Where did our motto go?

On October 8th, the Reverend John Finley IV ‘88 spoke at chapel. He stood on the pulpit as an exemplary graduate; after leading a privileged life, he gave back to the community by teaching students from inner-city backgrounds who otherwise would not be able to afford education. When Rev. Finley spoke, he mentioned  that Endicott Peabody founded Groton as a place to mold characters that did more than simply enjoy their fortunate circumstances and gave to the world as much as they took. Leaving this chapel, one might be under the impression that Peabody’s wish has been accomplished, for Rev. John Finley IV ‘88 certainly honored the school spirit of service. However, this is not the case within our own community.

What is community service anyway? If you’re asking that question, then clearly you have not served your neighborhood, or been to Loaves and Fishes and Our Father’s House. Community service is a term for the act of serving a community whether it is a familiar neighborhood to you or not. It can be accomplished simply, from helping out at a food pantry to reading a book to a group of kids living at a homeless shelter. But often, people get too caught up in their lives and forget to think about service and what it truly means to serve. The week goes by too fast, leaving many with the excuse that there is no time to think about anyone but themselves, let alone give back. At Groton, students are given countless hours of homework each night. On top of that, we have sports requirements right after school, clubs that we attend later in the day, Saturday morning classes, sit-down dinner once a week, and chapel five days per week. Thus, students ask, when do I have time to rest? While our motto “Cui Servire Est Regnare” is proudly emblazoned below every school crest, announcements for community service trips only occur once in a while on news or student conferences. The opportunities are there, but they are sparse and poorly attended.  At this point, community service becomes a burden to most people when it should be looked at as a chance to do something good for the community –  a chance to use your time to impact the lives of people positively through kind deeds, good will, and dedication.

“‘Cui Servire est Regnare.’ It sounds very nice, the sort of thing that you could go around saying impressively at parties while people wonder at how cultured and sophisticated you must be because you throw around phrases in Latin and go to boarding school.” So began Eddie Lee’s chapel talk from last year. The opening statement shows us Eddie’s view that our motto stands only as a mirage. Why is this so? Our school is supposedly guided by the notion of service. This motto in itself is a noble one. If Groton truly values service, why is there so little advocating for it? For instance, Eddie pointed out in his chapel talk that “maybe if our leaders went to soup kitchens in Ayer instead of Four Seasons in London and Seoul things would be better.” It is true that, at least in past years, there have been no examples of leaders at Groton promoting service. Eddie also said that the school spends too much money on traveling for fundraisers and speakers while it could be better spent on service. While the changes that Eddie asked for may seem drastic, they are hardly unfair. Although it is true that educated speakers and new science wings are certainly beneficial to the community, service is significantly undervalued here.  Students from prep schools like Groton are often viewed as a certain breed of people, both arrogant and spoiled. Perhaps some active concern for the well-being of the less fortunate people around us would help replace that image, not only for those looking in but for students themselves. The perspective achieved by working with and helping those with completely different lives helps remove a bloated sense of self-importance.

So, what is the Groton Community Service (GCS) group doing to actually broaden the community service program and to make kids more active participants? Well, the new head of GCS is Mr. Freeman-Coppadge, who is certainly well qualified for the job, having been involved with community service since he was sixteen. He worked for an international organization called the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY). On his experiences, he said “through HOBY I got to see the tremendous power we have to change lives in deeply meaningful ways, just through giving our time and energy, even in small amounts. I felt the power of change in my own life as I learned to see people for who they were in their own sphere, instead of merely seeing them for what role they played in my own sphere.” This is exactly the type of insight into service that Groton needs in a head of GCS. When asked about moving forward with GCS, Mr. Freeman–Coppadge was realistic: “my first job is to see what has been happening up [until] now. Once I’ve got a good understanding of what’s in place, then I’ll look at new developments or changes that the community feels are appropriate.” However, he did emphasize his plan for paying an equal amount of attention to environmental service, since he thinks that the future community is just as important as the current one. Mr. Freeman-Coppadge hopes to create a stronger connection between the students and the people at these weekly community service activities. Mr. Freedman-Coppadge also works with the Sixth Form GCS heads, Gen Corman ‘14, Yowana Wamala ‘14, Jamie Thorndike ‘14, and Ade Osinubi ’14, in addition to a board consisting of both Fifth and Sixth Formers, who act as assistant heads.    Yowana mentioned that “community service needs to be more heavily publicized and we need to define what we need by serving.” He said that “students love to serve our immediate community.” We join all the clubs, and we keep the place clean, but outside the circle, there is a lack of service. The heads agree that community service should become a bigger part of the Groton School culture, and Ade even thought about having a school-wide project. The heads and Mr. Freeman-Coppadge seem very determined to make GCS more active on campus, but they won’t succeed if the students are not cooperating or participating in these service activities. It is each and every one of our duty to do some community service. We have been given so much opportunity at Groton; there are so many doors open for us, and it is only right to give back. Change has come to Groton school with the new school year: a new headmaster, a new GCS head, and a new GCS board. With belief and dedication to the founding morals of this school, the change will be positive.

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