As I was sitting in the library last Friday afternoon holding a copy of my senior paper, it finally hit me – I am graduating. It was then that I began to think about what I have learned in the last four years at Luther. My career for the past four years has been a student activist. Alyssa Erickson (‘03) gave a top ten list of things she had learned from her days at Luther at her lecture on grassroots activism for Peace Week this year. She has inspired me to make my own list of things I have learned.
#1. Work across lines. Have you ever tried to organize an event and then have little to no people show up for it? I have. It sucks. The best way to make sure that you have an audience is to work with another organization(s) and join creative forces. This way, you’ll be targeting many different crowds at the same time, which will hopefully increase your numbers at any event, thereby spreading your message faster.
#2. Stay positive and hopeful. This is very important. No one wants to work with someone who is grumpy and negative all of the time. People are more likely to want to help out if they have a sense that something good will come out of that work, and that can’t happen if you push them away with negativity.
#3. Don’t over involve yourself. I am guilty of doing this. It is hard to find a balance between your homework and activism. As long as you are satisfied with the work that you do, then don’t worry. But if, at the end of the day, you’re freaking out about all of the responsibilities you have, and not having enough time or energy to get everything done, perhaps you should consider decreasing the level of responsibility you are taking on.
#4. Take a break. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. You will be of no good to anyone if you are having panic attacks or getting little to no sleep each night. This does not mean you are a quitter or are giving up. It just means that you need to take a break every once in a while to maintain your passion as well as your energy.
#5. Learn to say, “No.” This is the one thing that I still have much trouble doing. There are many things that need to change and oftentimes, it is easy to think that you are the only one who is working for that change. But, you’re not. Change takes time and it takes many people. Besides, if you say no, perhaps you will have opened the door for someone else to become involved.
These are just a few things I have learned, but they are the ones that will stay with me for a long time. I encourage you all to become involved in whatever you are passionate about. Don’t worry if you’ve never been a part of anything before. Just know that your presence and participation is needed and appreciated.
If you are graduating with me, don’t think that you can’t be involved in the communities you are moving into. There are plenty of non-profit organizations and other social justice groups that need your help – whether it comes in the form of becoming a member of something or just attending their events. There’s a lot of work to do, so get to it.