When an unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime, golden opportunity comes around, go for it. I know, because that’s exactly what I did. A 2011 Millikin graduate, I work for the AmeriCorps VISTA program and am stationed at my alma mater for this academic year. In my job, I help lead and coordinate service opportunities for Millikin students, helping them commit to making community service an ongoing part of their lives, just as I have. I live in campus housing as part of my job, eating with students in the cafeteria and mixing with them at various campus events. I’m deliberately not paid much, in part so I can relate better to the poverty-stricken individuals in this area that we try to help.
This January, less than two days before the inauguration weekend of President Barack Obama, I was notified that I was one of only 250 nationwide VISTA members chosen to serve at the National Day of Service event in Washington D.C., held that Saturday. At the event, nearly 100 service organizations were on hand to encourage more than 30,000 inaugural attendees to make a commitment to community service for the year. Obama started the National Day of Service at his 2009 inauguration and has said he hopes it will become a continuing inaugural tradition. I had to get to our nation’s Capitol immediately in order to take part. With the moral and financial support of Millikin’s Career Center and Office of Student Development, I booked a flight and left for Washington the next day. I actually shouted with excitement when I realized that everything was falling into place.
Since my late selection meant I had been unable to attend the mandatory in-person training required by the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), I was invited to attend alternative training the same evening I arrived. The training was led by former White House intern and PIC member Kate Cummings, who outlined the day’s details and our roles as volunteers. She explained that nearly 55,000 people had requested to volunteer for the National Day of Service, but we were among only 15,000 honored with selection. “Tomorrow, your last name is Obama,” Cummings said. “Act as though he were beside you and practice integrity as you are now representing, not only your own organizations, but the United States as a whole.” At the event, I was an ambassador for national service, distributing hundreds of “Pledge to Serve” forms to the inaugural attendees and encouraging them to make a long-term commitment to serve. Along with signing pledge forms, attendees could check out the dozens of agencies on hand, including the American Red Cross, American Heart Association and the Department of Veterans Affairs. People all across the nation were performing acts of community service that day, including the Obamas, who helped with improvements at a school in northeast D.C.
Throughout the day, I also had the chance to meet several celebrities, including actress Angela Bassett, “The Voice” contestant Nicholas David, and political activist Dr. Martin Luther King III, son of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was even able to catch a glimpse of the inauguration ceremony before flying home that afternoon. On my flight home that Monday, reflecting on my brief and unexpected experience, I realized that being a part of this historic event had opened my eyes to a world outside my own. If you are thinking twice about taking a chance on something unexpected, I offer these three tips to consider:Never pass up a good opportunity.Don't be afraid to experience new things.Make the most of the events that come your way now.
That weekend gave me a renewed sense of purpose and commitment for helping others. I’m glad I didn’t hesitate.
Cassandra “Cassie” Monfiston ’11
graduated from Millikin as a Long-Vanderburg Scholar with a bachelor’s degree in communication and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She found her way back to the “Milli-Bubble” through serving a one-year term as service and civic engagement coordinator for the AmeriCorps VISTA program on campus. After completing her term with VISTA, she plans to attend law school to become a defense attorney. As a student, Cassie took a mission trip to Haiti to assist with earthquake relief, an experience that led to her desire to work for VISTA.