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DANIEL C. SHIVELY: Putting magic years to better use

by DANIEL C. SHIVELY Special to the Gazette on January 20, 2012 1:45 AM

Every year, it seems to me, the way society deals with people of college age is increasingly absurd. Here we are, deep in a multitude of problems that we wish we could fix; but the young are deposited in well-meaning but often distracted educational institutions and are told that for the most part their time will come later. In fact, we need them now.

I say this not so much because they are capable, though many of them are, but because, oddly enough, we harbor a strong desire to have them lead us. It is still as true as ever: "The world … was made to be wooed and won by youth."

Those are the words of Winston Churchill, in his memoir "Roving Commission." Churchill left no doubt as to the age group he had in mind: "Twenty to twenty-five! These are the years!" The very years in which we have our youth away in college, worrying about money and debt, trying to figure out what their professors want of them, and hampered by the feeling of being cocooned away from society, waiting to make their first feeble attempts to flap their wings after finally qualifying to participate in the rite of commencement.

In spite of all this, large numbers of college students contribute to their communities and to various charities by means of raffles, contests, bake sales, tutoring, cleanup and building projects, as well as fundraising walks for dollars per mile. By such means students working together make sizable contributions. But in fact nearly all these activities can be and are used by high school students as well. Some who have graduated from college also participate; but as they accumulate money and societal prestige they turn more to activities such as leadership in service organizations and straight-out philanthropy in various forms.

If we believe with Churchill that youth in the magic years between 20 and 25 can and should find much more significant ways to break out of their restrictions, even as they dutifully follow the educational course that society has laid out for them, I have a modest proposal. It offers a full-fledged adult activity, at no cost and not necessarily requiring much of anyone's time. But it opens up a way to participate in the sort of philanthropy to which many wealthy people devote much time and attention.

Here it is: A student or a student group will make a list of organizations, from local to worldwide, that are trying to alleviate conditions or influence policies in ways that seem excitingly worthy. The list will not have to be either long or comprehensive, so it would not be difficult for an idealistic student to make.

Then instead of contributing personal funds, that would only add to worrisome debts projected to hang around long after graduation, the student or students would get in touch with like-minded people who have accumulated money and may be willing to make contributions in students' names. The donors might also be able to suggest organizations to the students, and conversely they themselves might benefit from students' research into the worth and effectiveness of certain organizations.

If a potential donor were to ask a student group to hold a bake sale or walk miles under sponsorship in order to free up the funds, that could be done as well.

Some participating philanthropists may not wish to contribute very much, but would be willing to help out even in ranges such as $25 to $50. Every bit helps, and many donors may be enlisted to help even more.

Eventually a nationwide clearinghouse could be set up to coordinate this program and advance its two main goals: to empower the young and to provide more for the causes they identify.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Daniel Shively has been a member of the library faculty at IUP since 1963. As the most senior member of the IUP faculty, he has led every commencement procession for the past 13 years, carrying the ceremonial mace.

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