Graduation. The light at the end of a long and winding tunnel. The end of students’ toils and a celebration of their hard work.
Every semester, some seniors have found themselves in a bind: they are scrambling to complete the 10, 40, 60 service hours they need to turn the tassel from the right to the left of their graduation cap.
For over a decade, Lee has included service learning into its curriculum. Today, every traditional four-year student must complete 80 hours of service in order to receive their diploma.
Studio production major Daniel Vincent is a senior expecting to graduate this upcoming May but is still in need of 70 service hours.
“It’s given me a lot of anxiety,” Vincent said. “It’s one of my biggest concerns about graduation.”
Director of the Leonard Center Dr. William Lamb said he has seen his fair share of differing opinions on required service, from appreciation to irritation to, like Vincent, stress about the matter. However, Lamb holds that service is valuable to both the servant and the one being served, required or not.
“The deadlines are a friend to the student and not a punishment,” Lamb said. “They’re intended to help the student stay ahead of the game.”
For most students, the deadlines for service forms and reflection papers are November 1 for the fall semester and April 1 for the spring semester. However, for seniors graduating in May, the March 14 due date is creeping ever closer. For this reason, Lamb encourages students with remaining service hours to think ahead.
“It’s a small but consistent percentage of seniors who find themselves in this situation,” Lamb said, “so work on it early.”
According to Lamb, if a senior does not complete all 80 hours by the deadline, it’s out of the Leonard Center’s hands. All graduation decisions are handled by the graduation council and the deans of the departments, and Lamb reminds students that service learning is an academic requirement.
Vincent, on the other hand, feels that service should not be a deciding factor in graduation.
“There should be some sort of leniency when it comes to falling short of service hours, especially for seniors,” Vincent said. “It’s just sad they can say, ‘No, you can’t graduate’ just because you don’t have enough service. I’m paying for an education, not service hours.”
Lamb, however, holds that the value of service extends beyond a mere requirement.
“We make a big distinction between community service and service learning,” Lamb said. “Service learning is an academic, enforced, reflective activity. The service on the street is rewarding, but it has a valuable academic flavor to it as well.”
According to Lamb, service learning can even give your resume a boost.
“By the time they’re juniors and seniors, we really want students to find service placement that speaks directly to their career choice. A lot of places of employment are looking at the service that you’ve done,” Lamb said. “The type of service you do at Lee could be valuable for a job.”
Service Projects Coordinator at the Leonard Center Valerie Corbett connects students with clubs and nonprofits in the area for service opportunities in their field.
She encouraged that hope should not be lost for seniors who are struggling with their service hour requirement.
“There’s nothing to fear if you’re behind on your service hours. [There are] plenty of opportunities out there,” Corbett said. “I haven’t had very much experience with anyone coming to me in that situation and not finding service for them.”
It is not always an issue of neglect; rather, sometimes students are not aware of important dates and information. Although students hear service learning information as freshmen, many students lose touch with their service progress, Corbett explained.
“Typically, seniors say that they’ve done lots of service but didn’t turn in the paperwork, and the deadlines slip by,” Corbett said. “Or sometimes they’ve actually been doing service they didn’t know fits the requirements.”
For overwhelmed seniors, Corbett suggests a visit to the Leonard Center to discuss the options available to them.
“Sometimes it just takes having a conversation,” Corbett said. “Take it one day at a time.”
For underclassmen, on the other hand, Corbett recommends using their time to explore their interests through service learning opportunities.
Lamb hopes that, beyond benefiting the community, service will allow students to practice excellence outside the classroom.
“If you’re going to give excellence in a class, you should give the same level of excellence to service. Excellence is about who you are, not what the topic is,” Lamb said. “If you do this at the front end of your education experience, it typically becomes a model which develops into a lifestyle.”
For those still in need of service opportunities, here are a few nonprofits that accept periodic volunteering:
The Caring Place models Christ’s love through providing resources to the people of Bradley County. By providing food, clothing and social services, the Caring Place addresses the physical and spiritual needs of local families. They heavily rely on volunteers to effectively operate daily.
Habitat for Humanity ReStore builds and restores homes, communities and hope through God’s love. Habitat for Humanity ReStore accepts gently used donations of furniture and appliances that are sold to the public. Proceeds go towards helping build homes. Volunteers help process donations.
Foundation House Ministries equips struggling families with the tools to become effective and stable parents. They believe in breaking the cycles of poverty, welfare dependency and lack of education. FHM aims to help parents through financial, mental and social aid. Volunteers help take in donations and keep track of inventory.
For more information about service learning, visit the Leonard Center any time between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, or visit leeuserves.com for a list of local service opportunities.
Additionally, students can email the Leonard Center at email@example.com with any questions.