As another Non Sibi Day is in the books, I can’t help but reflect again on the nature of it, and the impression it gives students—or a lack thereof. I come from a school whose motto also promoted selflessness, but in my four years there, I only ever saw it as that: a school motto. Only when the school initiated a “Kindness Week,” or something similar, did I actively think to apply it in my daily life, though I sometimes still did not. In the long gap of time between the Non Sibi Day sign ups and the actual day, I thought a lot about what it meant to participate in an obligatory day of community engagement. To me, it seemed like requiring students to perform acts of service diluted the real meaning of community engagement. Andover is forcing all students into these activities, making the “engagement” aspect of community engagement feel conditional.
Before break, every student received an email with the subject “Non Sibi Day,” which described the day as one of “awareness, engagement, and reflection,” and prompted students to anticipate a subsequent sign up sheet. All of the event options for Lowers were physical activities: tidying up trails, pulling weeds in gardens, and the like. For my part, I had accidentally forgotten about the sign ups. When I finally clicked on the sheet, several days later than the rest of my classmates, the only options that hadn’t been taken were the ones that either traveled far from campus or took the longest time. Or both.
Once the information emails were sent out, students began complaining about being forced to travel so far from campus, or spending three, four, or even five hours completing some physical task. Due to the amount of time in between sign ups and Non Sibi Day, the matter slipped from the minds of many students, but earned groans all around when it was brought up. Even students who previously held otherwise neutral views about Non Sibi Day began to change their perspectives upon hearing the complaints. In fact, the only relief that seemed to surface from students was because classes and athletics were canceled for the day.
It was clear to me that most, if not all, of these negative responses stemmed from Non Sibi Day being mandatory. Hearing this feedback, I felt even more confused about the spirit of Non Sibi Day. From the very first days of orientation, Andover has emphasized community engagement over community service, creating programs for students to join on a completely voluntary basis. In this way, the students who do join are the ones who genuinely want to be taking part in such activities.
While the purpose of creating the day was most likely in part to achieve an understanding in students about real applications of “Non Sibi” and selflessness, the spirit of Non Sibi cannot be adequately strengthened through such a means. If students aren’t fully immersing themselves in community engagement and don’t truly understand the values of “awareness, engagement, and reflection,” and instead only participating because they are required to, then the act of service is lost on them. In my mind, I likened it to physical exercise: continuous workouts build up the muscles over time, but a single day of sudden and intense exercise doesn’t bring about any effects except for soreness the following day.[a]
Students are capable of showing Non Sibi spirit on their own by joining Andover’s community engagement programs and showing small acts of kindness and selflessness throughout each day. Yet, when a necessary day of community engagement is created, the real meaning of Non Sibi is distorted into something students joke about and steer clear from. While it is important for students to experience engaging within a community, creating a mandatory day of community engagement is not productive in achieving an understanding of that importance.