Spartans Will Serve

In March, nine students and I spent a week at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in Fort Ogelthorpe, Georgia as part of Alternative Spartan Break. When our trip co-leader Sam asked me to write a reflection for the ASB blog, I quickly agreed. “Heck yeah, I’ll do that! It will be easy to tell everyone about our amazing trip” I thought.

Outside of my day job at MSU, I am also a blogger. So, it’s ironic that it has taken me two weeks to write this post. I’m struggling to capture how awesome our trip was and how grateful I am that I experienced it.

My role on the trip was to serve as the “university representative,” or emergency back-up, should anything happen while we were away. I’d done this before at other schools and was ready to be “the grown-up” at any time. Our co-leaders, Sam and Shannon were so organized, focused, and prepared, that honestly, my presence was unnecessary. They could have easily handled anything that came at them. Because of them, I experienced the trip as a full participant and not an onlooker.

Our assignment for the week was to clean up Glen Falls Trail, the most popular trail on Lookout Mountain. After only a 30-minute orientation on Sunday, the students jumped in and didn’t stop working until Friday. They worked all day, for five straight days, taking only 30 minutes for lunch. Together we cleared over a mile of trail; widened the trail by two feet; unearthed 30 pound rocks and used them to build steps; pulled brush; raked; and trimmed trees. Our ranger guides Justin and Will consistently commented on how thorough and professional the students were; they had to remind themselves that they were students and not professional landscapers.

After working all day, we would drive back to the church that served as our home base and make dinner together. Then we spent time reflecting on the day. The physical work was demanding and I think I even lost a few pounds. But for me, nightly reflection was my favorite part of the week. Before we left East Lansing, none of us knew each other. The students were all different majors, different classes, and involved in various clubs at MSU. I was the mother figure who tagged along to make sure no one cut off a finger or fell off the mountain. The only thing we had in common was our desire to serve. During the week, we transformed from a group of strangers to a tight-knit group of friends. I heard and saw students put themselves out there- physically and emotionally- to make something better for others. I saw their peers support them. I witnessed how students can rise to any challenge and represent our university with class and pride.

So, in the spirit of those reflections, here are the top ten things I (re)learned on Spring Break:

1. It’s fun to get dirty. It’s even more fun to get dirty while serving.
2. Hiking heals your body, mind, and spirit.
3. Poison sumac is really, really itchy! Really.
4. Our country is beautiful.
5. Chicken and waffles are as good as everyone says.
6. Park Rangers are teachers. They are sharing our national history with future generations.
7. Visit and support the National Parks. They are a treasure that should be preserved.
8. MSU students are generous, thoughtful, hard-working, and awesome teammates.
9. An MSU student who gives up their spring break to go do service with a group of strangers takes being a Spartan to another level.
10. Spartans Will Serve.

I’ve worked in higher education for 17 years and in that time have advised, supervised, and led with 100s of students. The Spartans I met on ASB are the best I know. It was my privilege to serve alongside them for that week.