By: Brian Rosenbaum
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’ve been meditating on gratitude and its relationship to my work. While not ignoring Thanksgiving’s real cultural and historical inconsistencies, for me the holiday has always been a call to reflect on what I have and a space to feel the warmth of that feeling called gratitude.
Feeling grateful is not the same as being thankful. I say “thank you” all the time – to the cashier at the store, to my coworkers, to my friends. But in our culture today, “thanks” is always secondary to an action – bagging my groceries or replacing the paper in the printer. Rarely does “thank you” stand on its own, or truly stem from deep, profound appreciation. Saying thanks is a social norm.
In contrast, gratitude grows from an acknowledgement that so much of what we enjoy are gifts not of our own creation. It is the understanding that these acts of grace – the rain that nourishes our crops, the generosity of strangers, the sacrifices of our ancestors – make possible the lives we live today.
Being a Peer Leader (a high school senior youth influencer) in my nonprofit, College Summit, is both an act of grace, and not. Peer Leaders are chosen by their counselors, principals, and teachers to participate in the program, so in some ways this designation is beyond their control. But being a Peer Leader is not easy – they may be given the title, but they earn the respect of their teachers and fellow seniors by stepping up and growing into this leadership role.
Yet despite the real effort that goes into being an active Peer Leader or Alumna, there is this constant buzz of warmth – a palpable, collective undercurrent of true gratitude that resonates in every sentence they speak when they talk about College Summit or to each other. Recently a Peer Leader posted this photo and caption to Instagram:
“Going over my personal statement for like the 5th time before I send it off to my writing coach again #aftermoresoccertryouts #godblessmycollegesummitwritingcoachforhelpingme #collegesummit #studentlens @collegesummitla”
Not surprisingly, this gratitude translates into students’ real love for the organization and a deeply rooted commitment to the “College Summit family” that surrounds Peer Leaders and Alumni alike – made up of staff, teachers, counselors, students, volunteers, and others. Here’s another recent Instagram post, where that love and emotion just radiate:
“So many choices, it makes it so difficult! Though I’m sure I’ll find the right colleges I would like to apply to. Whoever is stressing on applying to colleges, don’t stress so much! You’re not alone! There’s many other seniors going through the same thing. P.S to Arleta, Sylmar, Crenshaw, Morningside and etc Seniors, you have Peer Leaders going through the same process and if you have any questions you know who to ask! #Collegesummit #StudentLens
I hear this same tone again and again when I talk with Alumni about how College Summit has impacted their lives and why they stay connected. It’s this individual gratitude, multiplied across thousands of Alumni nationwide, that fosters the culture of generosity that propels them to stay involved with the organization, care even more deeply about their communities, and pursue careers like education, law, non-profit management, and medicine, where they can support and inspire the next generation of youth just like them.
So this Thanksgiving when our students and Alumni go around the table to say grace – whether they sit down in front of turkey or tamales – many will list College Summit among the blessings in their life, for giving them the tools to get into college and the support to know they’ll make it to graduation.
Little do they know, they’re the ones I’m grateful for.
As College Summit’s Community Engagement Coordinator, Brian works to recruit and mobilize the organization’s growing volunteer and Alumni Leader base while supporting sales initiatives, program implementation, event coordination, and development. Follow the adventure on Facebook by liking College Summit Southern California or via Twitter @CollegeSummitLA. Brian can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.