Hello! My name is Daniel Kim. I am a junior at Harvard College, studying chemical and physical biology. I have been volunteering with the American Red Cross for the past seven years, and I am currently serving as a co-president of the Harvard College Red Cross.
By sharing with you my experiences as a volunteer, I hope I can encourage some of you today to give volunteering a try. It really doesn’t take much, and, I assure you, volunteering will not only be an enjoyable experience for you. It will be one of the most meaningful things you’ll ever do: It will change how you interact with people, how you think about others, and, ultimately, how you care for this world.
I begin my story today with freshman year of high school. Coming into a math-and-science-heavy private high school, I was very keen on making my classes count. I wanted to devote as much time as possible to my studies. College was on my mind, and, needless to say, many of my motivations and goals were focused on me, directed on what I needed and what I wanted. Anything else was a distraction.
So, you can imagine that when I was walking through the extracurricular fair, I was only casually browsing through the different clubs available. As I walked around that gymnasium though, one particular club did catch my eye.
It wasn’t that their presentation was spectacular. (They were a fairly small club at the time.) But their message was clear: “Our club saves lives. What does your club do?” I thought about it. How many clubs could make a grand claim like that? I mean, to “save lives”? Only doctors and firefighters do that. Intrigued, I approached the table, chatted with some of the students there, and within minutes, I became a member of the Red Cross Club.
I began as an observer mostly, just passively checking out what the club does. I attended weekly lunch meetings, and I was always met by an enthusiastic group of young volunteers. Busily eating lunch while scribbling dates and names on the white board, every meeting consisted of planning upcoming volunteering opportunities. Going to these meetings from week to week, I began to wonder, “What exactly are my peers so excited about? What drives them to spend every Wednesday lunch planning these events?”
And before I knew it, my curiosity brought me to my first volunteering event. Paired up with another volunteer, we visited the local elementary school as Safe Kids instructors and taught students about handling emergency situations. They learned how to handle small cuts, learned what to do when someone is choking, when someone gets a nose bleed, etc. Because these were fourth grade kids, we needed a fun way to start off the day. At the beginning of every class, we opened with a fun skit that was relevant to that week’s topic.
Here, I think it’s worth mentioning that I have always been an introvert. Speaking in front of an audience terrifies me. Speaking in front of everyone here, for instance, would have been impossible several years ago. But a strange thing happened. As I was acting out ridiculous scenes in front of these students, I slowly began to realize that I enjoyed interacting with these kids. I enjoyed teaching this curriculum (which despite its fun nature was very important)! I enjoyed volunteering! And most importantly, I enjoyed volunteering enough…to escape my own comfort zones.
Along with this new level of confidence came enthusiasm. And with enthusiasm I came to take upon exciting, more ambitious roles with the American Red Cross. And it was here I truly began to grow.
By the end of high school, I was serving as the President of my high school’s Red Cross Club and at the regional level, as the Co-Chair of my chapter’s Youth Executive Board. Through these positions, I helped organize our school’s annual blood drive, inaugurated the school’s first on-campus CPR training, and helped organize a leadership development camp for youth in the area. And I was doing all of this concurrently with my academics. Yes, I was a full-time student. But now, at the same time, I was also a volunteer.
You see, being a volunteer is not simply an activity. It’s an identity. Just as how I’m Korean, how I am a student…I am a volunteer. And becoming a volunteer begins with the acknowledgement that there are other people in this world and that – maybe, just maybe – they may be having a worse day than you. So then, the decision to be a volunteer becomes the conscience deferral of your own needs to meet the needs of others. And when your hands are extended to make contact with someone else’s, there, at that moment, you will experience a sense of fulfillment you’ve never felt before.
Through volunteering with the Red Cross, I have been made more aware of the people around me, and now I actively seek ways in which I can volunteer. Yes, on one hand, I still continue my involvement with the Red Cross: After graduation, I immediately got myself plugged into the Harvard College Red Cross, where I help organize accessible CPR/First Aid Trainings and blood drives for the student body. But I have matured as a volunteer, thanks to the Red Cross, and I now look to creating my own opportunities to volunteer and apply myself. Through escorting patients at a local hospital, helping peers out with their homework, or serving as an interpreter at clinics abroad, I have learned that the best sense of fulfillment comes when my individual talent is applied perfectly to the situation at hand, meeting specifically the needs of the person that I am helping.
And that leads me to my last point for today. Not everyone volunteers in the same way. Consider a blood drive. Some will be the ones braving the needle and donating some of their blood. Others will be volunteering as aids, providing snacks and company for the donors. And others may have built the website by which volunteers and donors signed up in the first place! After seven years of volunteering and meeting other volunteers, I am a firm believer that in each person, there is a unique talent, and that in each person, there is a desire to help and care for others. I urge you all to find that talent, find that desire, and apply them to this world.
You won’t only be doing yourself a big favor. Your community will thank you for it as well.