If it’s true that “we are not what we say we are, but what we do,” then we as a society ought to feel at least a glimmer of hope for our future.
Turning ideas into action was the mission when Washington University opened its Danforth Campus to the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), a working weekend retreat that trains college-age young people for service to society. Approximately 1,200 students, hailing from 75 countries and all 50 states (and representing some 300 colleges and universities), gathered at the university April 5–7 for inspiration and information.
The enthusiastic students, including 201 from Washington University, were accepted and invited by CGI U based on the merits of previously submitted plans of action, or “commitments.” The CGI U weekend brought these students together with global thought leaders, innovators, celebrities and one another for plenary, working and skill sessions to help them further fine-tune these commitments.
CGI U chose Washington University as the host site for its sixth annual conference, according to Amanda Moore McBride, director of the university’s Gephardt Institute for Public Service and associate dean for social work at the Brown School, for two reasons: one, the university could logistically handle such a large event and, two, since 200 spots are set aside for the host institution, the university could guarantee a competitive base of applicants for these spots.
“At Washington University, civic engagement is just built into the culture and is part of our mission,” McBride says, “and having had the history of hosting the [presidential] debates provided evidence we could definitely handle such an event.”
Speaking to Washington University students’ commitment to community service, McBride stated that undergraduates alone rate 10 percentage points higher than the national average in terms of engagement. “For CGI U, we received 406 applications for those 200 spots,” she says.
Students, along with faculty and staff, also participated in CGI U in other ways, including as volunteers before and during the event. The Washington University community worked at Gateway STEM High School in St. Louis in the week’s preceding CGI U to prepare for a day of service Sunday, April 7. Students from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, in one instance, built raised planter boxes for the horticulture program at Gateway. On Sunday, CGI U students and other Washington U. volunteers filled the boxes with soil, perennials and vegetables for Gateway students to tend. (See video above for more on Washington U. student and faculty involvement.)
Chelsea Clinton, a CGI U board member who spearheaded the weekend’s events, heaped praise on the university and its involvement. During the opening plenary session, Clinton said, “Wash U really embodies not only the driving ethos of CGI U, of being committed to turning intentions into actions, but also the motivating purpose of CGI U, empowering what is too frequently called the next generation of leaders — but really are currently the leaders we need to have in every important conversation.”
If the engagement of the students this past weekend is any indication, they will not only be involved in the important conversations solving societal problems, but they’ll also be doingsomething — leading efforts — to ameliorate them.
Terri Nappier is editor of this magazine.
For more on Amanda Moore McBride’s inspiration for a career in service, see sidebar: “Passing the torch of service.”
For information on the university’s CGI U plan for action, see sidebar: “University makes $30 million sustainability commitment.”
Learn more on Washington University’s involvement in CGI U, the diversity of WUSTL student commitments, and highlights of the inspirational weekend in the June issue of Washington Magazine.