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City Year Founding Story: Everybody Can Be Great

Art by Vy Nguyen

Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.

You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 'The Drum Major Instinct' delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, February 4, 1968

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s idea of greatness is neither elitist nor exclusive. Yet, at the same time, everyone is not automatically great. Rather, each person has the potential to achieve greatness because every person has something to offer and to contribute through service. Greatness is available to all through unselfish action fueled by unselfish motivation. Dr. King sees the inherent dignity that every human being can achieve through service, a common meeting ground that requires no worldly credentials to enter. Service is a great equalizer that eliminates social division. If we truly believe that everyone can be great, then we must always remember to put this ideal into practice by assuming, finding, and appealing to the greatness in everyone. Everyone has something to offer, something to contribute, even if at first they do not know it, or we cannot see it.

About the Artist: Vy Nguyen graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in special education. A member of the 2011–2012 corps at City Year Chicago, she plans to continue working in urban education. Vy said this piece focuses on the process of how one becomes great—"Greatness is like a dormant seed, packaged with all the necessities to begin life but without nourishment, support, and love, it won't survive."