Over 300 Trinity College students were commended at the inaugural Dean of Students’ Roll of Honour ceremony in Trinity College recently (April 7th) for their participation in extracurricular, voluntary activity both inside and outside the College. The Roll of Honour was launched by TCD’s Dean of Students, Professor Gerry Whyte, and aims to recognise the learning outside the classroom which students gain through extra-curricular voluntary activity.
The event’s keynote speaker, Dr Martin McAleese, said: “I am heartened to know that another generationof young people are committed to carrying on the proud tradition of volunteering that has always been such a vital part of Irish life. May the role of volunteering in your lives be like the role of education in your lives – lifelong and enriching.”
Provost John Hegarty, Dr. Martin McAleese and Dean of Students' Professor Gerry Whyte with Jessica Pitcher (Chairperson Trinity TV) and Michael Prunty (Student2Student Peer Mentor)
Professor Gerry Whyte continued: "In Trinity College Dublin we are extremely proud of the extracurricular activity undertaken by students which ensures a vibrant campus and offers students diverse and multidimensional opportunities for learning, social development and personal growth. The promotion and incentivizing of voluntary activities is one of TCD’s strategic objectives and the Roll of Honour is just one way for us to recognise student participation in those activities.”
Dean of Students, Prof Gerry Whyte and Dr. Martin McAleese with Anne Cleary (captain of Trinity Camogie Club) and Daniel Farrell (Chairperson of Trinity Volunteer Opportunities Forum) both of whom were included on the Roll of Honour.
Trinity College students engage in a great variety of voluntary activities. The Roll of Honour acknowledges the contribution students have made to organisations and their peers through voluntary activites and gives students a chance to reflect on their experiences. The benefits of this type of learning might be entirely personal to the individual, but there is also the potential to develop civic-mindedness and to be beneficial to either or both the College and wider communities.
Dr McAleese’s support of the Dean of Students’ Roll of Honour not only helps highlight 2011 as the European Year of Volunteering but also serves to underline how extracurricular, voluntary activities can positively impact on Irish life through unpaid formal and non-formal, social, cultural, political, inter-personal and caring activities. The students each received a certificate in acknowledgement of their efforts at the event.
Dr. McAleese speaking to Jessica Pitcher of Trinity TV who was also included on the Roll of Honour.
Remarks by Dr. Martin McAleese at the Roll of Honour Ceremony 2011
"At the end of the day life is all about relationships. We are born into relationships with family and we are drawn into relationships with people who become close and lifelong friends. For many of us, family and close friends can become a comfort zone that we can choose to stay in and live in quite contently - and there is nothing wrong with that. However, if we choose to move outside this comfort zone and get involved in ‘other things’ and with ‘other people’, we can make things happen, we can change things and we can change ourselves.
I am not a natural volunteer. I have always found it hard to confront what for me, for a long time, was the demon of being involved in ‘other things’. I have found it much easier for most of my life to occupy the back row rather than the front row and have only got involved in volunteering after Mary was elected President in 1997.
The reasons why I felt this way can be explained by my early life in Belfast. I grew up in that city in the 1950s and 60s. It was a very different place then to what it is now. My mother and father were country people who came to Belfast in the late 1940s after they got married. He got a job and they bought a house close enough to his work so that he could either cycle or walk there. For them these were the only locational criteria and they demonstrated, in a sense, their naivety of the sectarian geography of the city, for they ended up right in the heart of loyalist East Belfast.
As a consequence we grew up as a minority catholic family with little or no contact with our neighbours. We were effectively loners in our own community and life was very difficult. The atmosphere was one of fear, intimidation and sectarianism – much of it real, some of it imaginary but nonetheless corrosive. Living in this atmosphere had a hugely detrimental effect on self-confidence and esteem. Fading into the background, covering the badge on the school blazer, not wearing the school tie except in school so as not to draw attention, anything not to be noticed. This was nature of everyday living. That was my early psychological landscape.
During that time I had one great resource, the greatest volunteering organisation on this island – the GAA. It was that organisation that provided the handrail that guided me through those difficult times and kept me connected with my identity, my Irishness and my nationalism. Those volunteers who organised the training, the fixtures, the transport, cut the grass, washed the jerseys will never know the impact they had on my life. But for them I would suspect that my life would have had an entirely different trajectory.
My involvement over a lifetime with the GAA had another profound impact on my life. Most of my lifelong friendships were forged during my playing days particularly at college. We all have a small number of intimate friends, the ones you count on the fingers of one hand and who journey with you through life. Participation in any of the college’s clubs or societies yields the potential for making such lifelong friendships. I have seen this replicated in my children through participation in extracurricular activities during their college days. These activities add a different dimension to college experience and play a significant role in personal development.
I think of the Irish Wheelchair Association which celebrated its 50th birthday this year, started all those years ago by 8 young wheelchair users who attended the Paralympics. When they returned to Ireland they reflected on just how lucky they were and how unfortunate others were. Then there weren’t even structures to get wheelchair users out of the house. It was thought that they shouldn’t go anywhere, - what contribution could they make anyway. Being physically disabled then meant being disabled and disconnected for your entire life.
Those 8 young people decided that they were going to change this. They each put 10 schillings into a pot and started an organisation with £4. That organisation is now a professional organisation with paid staff but still depending on volunteers for most of its work. It has changed forever the lives of wheelchair users and has become an effective lobby for their rights. An amazing achievement for 8 young people with £4 who 50 years ago had no structure, no experience but a vision and a determination to realise the vision.
Many of us fondly recall hosting the Special Olympics World games in 2003. We remember it with pride for we undertook the hosting of these games as a massive national voluntary endeavour which we saw through to a level of perfection and success that changed forever the way we regarded and included, not just special athletes, but all those with disability. We also remember how many of us moved out of a comfort zone for the first time and changed the way we interacted with members of the disabled community in terms of touch and talk. 40,000 volunteers were involved, as was every home and parish in the country. The games generated an enormous amount of generosity and goodwill and had a stellar impact on the national spirit.
The GAA, the Wheelchair Association and the Special Olympics are just 3 examples of the critical impact that volunteers have on Irish life. Volunteers are people who step up, turn up and keep turning up. They take responsibility for building up and enriching community. They are involved in everything – choir groups, active retirement groups, helping the homeless, St. V de P. etc.
There is one final example of volunteering at work which I should mention. That is the example of N.I where volunteers stepped into the chasm between two estranged communities to build bridges of trust and connectivity against the tide of cynicism and violence and to plot a way forward, away from a zero-sum stalemate, to a win-win situation for all. History will show the role of these volunteers in securing the peace. We owe them a lot because without them I don’t believe we would have achieved the Good Friday Agreement. Volunteers can help eventually to put a positive and coherent shape on needs, desires and ambitions which would otherwise remain unarticulated and unachieved.
The capacity of volunteers to leverage goodness and resources is incredible. I had the privilege to be involved in organising medical teams from Ireland for two visits to Honduras as part of a humanitarian response in the aftermath of hurricane Mitch that devastated the country in October 1999 and also in the setting up of a small dental clinic at a mission outside Nairobi run by an Irish SMA father. In both cases I was overwhelmed by the response of people who when approached gave so generously of their time, skills and resources.
Many are willing to volunteer and give something back but don’t get the opportunity to do so. The secret is to provide the opportunity to volunteer and be surprised by the numbers who grasp the opportunity. This was also a feature of Your Country, Your Call, the recent country-wide innovation competition, where over 200 individuals, companies and organisations came together to make the competition happen and they did so on a completely pro-bono basis – a remarkable expression of social responsibility and corporate social responsibility in these very difficult and challenging economic times. Significantly too all these contributions were provided, not for publicity or acknowledgment, or even for thanks but for the two most profound and laudable reasons of all – love of country and the national interest – a sense of patriotism which is not dead, despite the cynicism which appears to surround us!
Finally, what about the impact of volunteering on the volunteer? Volunteers are often regarded as people who give, give and give but reflection suggests the opposite and can reveal a lot about the self.
“am I a leader or a follower, can I take orders, can I earn respect, can I show respect, is my service valued, do I work easily with people, can I take criticism, what are my strengths and weaknesses”
This kind of interrogation of self helps to round off an education and personality, makes a person more at ease with self, identifies hidden personal resources and ultimately creates a better person, for self, the community and ultimately our country.
I have been privileged to have travelled the length and breadth of this island during the almost 14 years of Mary’s Presidency. I have met thousands of people of all ages and descriptions who are engaged in voluntary activity, whether altruistic activity or as members of clubs, societies and community organisations. Without exception they talk about the personal satisfaction, the fulfilment and the joy that voluntary activity has brought to their lives.
The contribution that volunteers bring to Irish life is immeasurable. If we didn’t have them or if their contributions were switched off what would happen? The word ‘recession’ wouldn’t even begin to describe the loss. Irish life would experience an Ice Age.
Congratulations to all of you who have participated in this initiative and who have been presented with certificates. I am heartened to know that another generation of young people are committed to carrying on the proud tradition of volunteering that has always been such a vital part of Irish life. May the role of volunteering in your lives be like the role of education in your lives – lifelong and enriching."