Amherst, Mass. — For recent college graduate Michael Wall, community service in college began with a Kurt Vonnegut novel. ``Vonnegut was talking about the idea of extended family,'' says Wall, a burly fellow who graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst last June.
``That simply means learning to find `family' wherever you go. That's what I wanted to find at college.'' That may have made him ``a little different from the average freshman, but I think even that is changing. More students are getting involved outside the classroom today. I think the pendulum is shifting. More students are willing to volunteer and help in the college community.''
Wall found his own extended family as a freshman in 1982 when he pledged Alpha Phi Omega -- a service organization -- instead of going with a traditional fraternity. He says he wasn't ``into'' a social system ``where the biggest pull to join was five kegs of beer.''
Last year, Wall organized ``A Class Act,'' the senior class gift to the college -- a cleanup of the 12th floor of the library that provided much of the momentum for last weekend's ``Mass Transformation,'' the refurbishing of the other 27 floors of the college library.
Doing service work has also helped Wall ``grow up a lot. You see things differently when you help others -- you aren't locked into your own point of view.''
More important, he says, student volunteers come away from school with ``something a little different. My own memories of school aren't going to be of a particular frat party,'' he says. He will remember instead ``the exhilaration'' of building a playground for children, raking lawns in the fall, and giving a Christmas party for some of the needy people in Amherst. ``Those are good memories -- they'll be with me for a lifetime.''
It's not as though college is a waste if students don't do service work, Wall quickly adds. He jokes that he and his friends are careful to check each other's halos often -- to make sure they aren't giving off too self-righteous a glow. Still, there's ``a lot more room'' for student service, he feels.