Mission Accomplished

The greatest source of pride for Phillips Academy has always been that we, as members of the school, are united by a common goal to reach out beyond ourselves into the world. On September 15, 2007, we finally took the leap from boasting about our schoolwide sentiment of non sibi to incarnating the idea into a worldwide demonstration of school spirit. Non Sibi Day was a resounding success that infused the charisma and generosity of the Phillips Academy community into the surrounding area. Regardless of the chagrin of some resentful students, community work that needed to be done got done, and the world saw that Andover is serious about non sibi. Unfortunately, despite the positive spirit of the day, there were grumbles around the school that Non Sibi Day was a requirement for students. Students often complained that, “If we are inclined to serve the community because of our ‘inherently selfless’ natures, why should service be made a requirement?” If you are going to serve anyway, why should it matter to you whether it is a requirement or not? The truth is, while the majority of the school does participate in community service, there remain students who, for whatever reason, cannot or do not volunteer. The mandatory nature of the day may have dragged students kicking and screaming from their beds, but the ultimate outcome was that the projects got done. Students were exposed to an activity that they might not have experienced otherwise. For those who are resentful to be told to help others, continue to wallow in your self-pity, but do not forget that the day was not about you. I was fortunate enough to have a rewarding experience at my project at the M.S.P.C.A. While some of the tasks that the coordinators at the shelters had for us to do were more enjoyable, such as playing with the kittens and puppies, other jobs were far less pleasant – mucking the goat pen, for instance. Obviously, the unanimous preference was to hide from the rain in the shelter with the fuzzy animals, but the group determined a system that divided the amount of time an individual student spent at each task. I might have spent an hour dodging over-friendly goats and their droppings in the miserable rain, but I also spent time feeding puppies. The best aspect of the day was the willingness with which the students in my group switched from one task to another. Everyone understood that, although the animals were the attraction of the place, other work needed to be done. An organization that does as much good as the M.S.P.C.A. cannot be run by petting kittens alone. Volunteers must be willing to set aside their own preferences for the good of the project. The true spirit of non sibi shone through, especially in the damp manure fields. The truth about non sibi is that we have to step outside of ourselves to do necessary tasks that we may find unpleasant. I acknowledge that many projects were “less desirable” than others. Many students sacrificed their Saturday to do a monotonous, aggravating chore, but that is exactly what non sibi is about. The day was not about students having fun. It was about the Phillips Academy community getting down and dirty in real work. I am sure that most students experienced boredom, fatigue and other unpleasant feelings. Self-sacrifice is not always the most enjoyable experience, but the outcome of your work is the reward. It is fantastic if you can have fun along the way, but the focus is on the people and places helped. Ideally, the spirit of the day would be embodied in every participant. But no one has a perfect attitude about everything and we do not have to be perfectly selfless in order to demonstrate what non sibi really means. Attitude is important, but actions speak even louder. In the end, it does not matter that there were some students who held a bitter view of the day. Those students still demonstrated non sibi, because regardless of their feelings towards community service, they contributed their time and energy. You do not have to be a saint to be selfless. You did not have to wake up that rainy Saturday with a big smile on your face because you were going to box medical supplies. The fact was that the students of Phillips Academy gave themselves up and proved that this school values service. People were fed, medicine was shipped, rivers were cleaned. If that’s not the ideal result, then what is? Non Sibi Day was not a perfect experience. The community can rest assured that next year, Non Sibi Day will be better than ever. While fidgeting with every detail of the day, we must stop and recognize the huge success that the day was. We need to realize the magnitude of our efforts. We can take a minute from our endeavors to give ourselves a pat on the back. I hope that this wonderful tradition and the people who worked tirelessly to make it a reality are honored for the years to come.