A number of recent pieces in the Daily have encouraged me to write in support of the AmeriCorps program (AmeriCorps gets boost in federal funding, 04/06/2009). I spent almost a year in full-time service with the program between my junior and senior years. I can say that it was, without a doubt, the best decision I have made in my undergraduate career.
While hitchhiking through Yosemite National Park in the summer of 2007, I got picked up by a girl about my age. She asked me what I was doing in the park. I was rock climbing, dirt-bagging and generally avoiding the real world. When asked what she was doing, she replied, “Volunteering for AmeriCorps.” Those three magical words would shape my life forever. I applied for the position she had had and was presented with the wonderful opportunity to spend 2008 in the Sierra Nevada, working on environmental restoration, monitoring air and water quality and leading volunteers. In short, I had an experience so extensive and valuable I’m sure I still haven’t realized its full worth.
Students today are often thrust into college immediately after they graduate from high school. Armed only with adolescent experience and the advice of our parents, we’re expected to pick the classes and profession that will give us the happiest life possible. Summer internships and extracurriculars may help to guide us, but without a knowledge of what real work and real life entail, it seems foolish to assume we’re prepared for “real life.” AmeriCorps gave me the chance to sample the post-graduation world before being fully committed to it. And to be blunt, I got a pretty unique chance to figure out what was awesome and what was terrible.
On top of making great friends and doing amazing things, I was paid, provided with health insurance and received a $5,000 bonus I can spend on anything relating to my education. I urge anyone interested in doing community service, taking a break from school or getting a job after graduation (or all three) to visit the AmeriCorps website and read testimonials of other program graduates. And if you don’t want to wait until after graduation, don’t. Take a year off — serve your country and serve yourself.