Plenary guest speaker: ‘Put others in front of yourselves’

If you are interested in a life of purpose and significance, community service has to be critical part of that

Kevin Quigley: ‘If you are interested in a life of purpose and significance, community service has to be a critical part of that.’

Communities come in many forms and fill many needs. Posting to social media what you ordered for dinner or your opinion about a reality TV show can be a contribution to a “me-based” community. Kevin Quigley is part of a community that is the opposite of that on social media — one with people who want to serve to make a difference — and he is inviting everyone to join him.

“My message is to encourage everybody to find ways to advance service and put others in front of yourselves, and that is how all of us can become more empathetic. That is a quality our world desperately needs more of,” Quigley said in a discussion of the goals of his Plenary address, “Liberal Arts and Service: Getting Under Your Skin.”

For decades, Quigley has practiced what he preaches. He is the product of a small liberal arts college, was a Peace Corps volunteer and later the president and CEO of the National Peace Corps Association. He has also served in a variety of leadership roles for foundations and non-profits, and is one of the founders of the Building Bridges Coalition, which seeks to expand opportunities for Americans to serve. He now shares his message with students as president of Marlboro College, a rigorous liberal arts institution in Vermont.

“The origin of liberal arts colleges was inspired by the Greeks,” he said. “The Greeks thought of education as education for citizenship. There were skills people required — an ability to think clearly, critically, and independently.”

Citizenship also requires empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, and Quigley wants to help others develop it for the common good. He aims to do that through education and service.

“Experiential learning is critical to help young people test the theories they learn in the classroom and also try out real world applications,” he said. “Service is an especially productive way for people to do things that are necessary to succeed in life in this interconnected, complex, dynamic world we live in.

“Service outside your comfort zone teaches you how to work across cultures and in groups to problem-solve and mobilize resources — often creatively. Most importantly, it helps people to develop empathy.”

Examples of the lack of empathy are seen around the globe, from the racial tension growing in the United States to Great Britain leaving the European Union, which plant seeds of global uncertainty.

“If you look at our body politic, one of the critical ingredients that is really missing is understanding other people’s perspectives in some deep, meaningful way,” Quigley said.A lot of the lifestyle stuff is about ‘me.’ Compounding that is the fact that technology can make us more self-absorbed than is good for us and our communities.”

There are multiple ways to serve communities, he said, defining a community as a group of people who share a place with sets of values, experiences, and aspirations.

“You pick your community. If you are interested in a life of purpose and significance, community service has to be a critical part of that,” Quigley said. “AAD members are a community, serving their patients.

“Martin Luther King said, ‘Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.’ That is a great admonition to all of us. Whatever you do, wherever you are, find the community you want to be connected to and find some ways to be of service.”

Quigley supports a growing movement, Service Year Alliance, which calls for young people to serve for one year for the public good in groups that can range from the military to the Peace Corps to AmeriCorps.

“This could create a much greater sense of shared community in our country, where everybody had a collective experience of some form of service,” he said. “The idea is to have a core expectation that every young American, before they are an adult, will serve in some context either before, during, or right after college.”

For Quigley, the greatest social entrepreneur of the 20th century was Sargent Shriver, who helped create the Peace Corps, the National Poverty Law Center, Head Start, the Senior Corps, VISTA, and Special Olympics.

“These institutions have touched the lives of millions of Americans,” Quigley said, and he encouraged AAD members and others to follow Shriver’s famous exhortation, ‘Serve, serve, serve.’”

Quigley also lauded the many volunteer opportunities available to dermatologists through the AAD. Check them out online.

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