By Allen Magnusson, City Year AmeriCorps Member on the McDonough Elementary School Team
I am a present-minded person almost to a fault. I tend to devote myself wholly to the here and now, and this is simultaneously a huge personal strength and weakness. I’m adept on focusing my entire mental and emotional energies on my current position, adaptable and even-keel, and inevitably prone to forsaking long-term goal planning and necessary reflection for total immersion in the present.
Background established, I found myself this past April seemingly oblivious to my impending college graduation. I would treat each day as just that—I would make sure to get my class and thesis work done, socialize, eat, exercise, sleep, and repeat ad infinitum. However, this seemingly predictable cycle had a very clear-cut expiration date, and in a month I would find myself unemployed and without any formalized career trajectory. So, when my friend, Ben, told me offhandedly one day, “Hey, Allen, I’m applying for this thing called City Year and you should too,” and I replied with a semi-disinterested, “Oh word, that sounds cool for sure, man,” I couldn’t have even imagined that this casual conversation would eventually thrust me into my present position. Fast-forwarding through my research into City Year, applications, interviews, and being asked to serve in a city called Manchester that I had never heard of before, all that stood between me and embarking on my City Year journey was a simple, but difficult, “yes.”
Until the present, I have never lived in New England. I have no prior teaching experience, nor had any previous interest in education as an industry or a battleground for social justice. Now, I am wholly committed to making an impact in both my school and in my 5th grade classroom. Manchester, New Hampshire feels like home. I owe this transformation to Ben (now a proud Team Leader at City Year New York), and decided to dedicate my red jacket to him during our Opening Day ceremony. He asked me to say “yes,” to throw myself head-first toward a foreign experience where I would risk immediate comfort for the potential to make an impact and for opportunities to grow as both an individual and citizen. I made the choice to embrace spontaneity and the unknown, to relegate my individual status as secondary to that of team unity and service toward a greater cause. I could not be happier as a result. Even after two months into my year of service, I’ve grown in ways that I couldn’t have before predicted.
It is true that all positive change in our community requires ambition, proactivity, and creativity, oftentimes initiated by a handful of remarkably visionary individuals. That said, however, I would like to stress the importance of an even simpler, everyman virtue: the willingness to say, “yes” when confronted with new opportunities, especially those ones that offer possibilities for change and impact. It is always easier to remain blissfully unengaged and to choose background over front lines, but there will be no improvement in the status quo if we choose to let it remain stagnant. With just a small dose of that “positive can-do attitude” (a hallmark of City Year culture) we can begin to make immense progress together. Earth-shifting tidal waves begin with mere ripples, and saying ‘yes’ can be the tremor that precedes it all.
Read the fourth in our four part series: My Red Jacket Dedication: The Practice of Non-Judgment