If somebody said that leaders getting out and shoveling snow was a hallmark of a great community, you’d say that’s crazy, right?
A delightful story came through Twitter the other day about Michael Benson, the president of Eastern Kentucky University, showing up to shovel a student’s driveway in response to a tweet. It’s not a new service EKU offers, just a good-natured good deed from Benson, who regularly interacts with students via Twitter and responds to challenges for things like ping-pong games and dodgeball. But this little act of kindness was so on target that it inspired others to take up shovels to help their neighbors and it rightfully earned plenty of media attention.
After I shared it, friends at other colleges helped put it into the context of a larger narrative and trend. A friend at Cornell noted that Berea, Kentucky, is considered one of the 20 coolest towns in U.S. Then another colleague from Cornell, Mark Anbinder, recalled how Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick once went around the city with a shovel and some friends to help those who needed it. Ithaca also happens to be considered the Best College Town in America by Business Insider, among many other awards for being an awesome community that occupy a long list on VisitIthaca.com.
Coincidence? Maybe less than it seems.
The best communities and campuses are powered by a spirit where everybody is involved. When the person on top rolls up their sleeves — or tucks them into a coat to take up a shovel — how powerful a message is that? If the college president or the mayor take up shovels and take time to look out for the community, what possible reason could you have for not helping others when you have the opportunity?
I’m not saying your president or mayor needs to go out and shovel — it’s not a very enjoyable opportunity unless you it’s something you like doing — but the act is more metaphorical. It is not the specific actions but the attitudes that are significant.
I still remember so many years later when I was unemployed and unhappy and fresh out of college, visiting my alma mater of Brockport. A dean had a brief exchange with me that suddenly made me feel human again, lifted my spirits and bolstered my beyond-sagging confidence. It wasn’t anything in particular she did or said, nor anything she would ever remember, but just a brief moment where her message to me was simply: You matter.
We all matter. And just the reminder of this means a lot. Our star student blogger Alyssa Levenberg, of “Alyssa Explains It All” fame, has always wanted to meet our college president, Deborah F. Stanley. After a hockey game, seeing President Stanley there but not feeling like she could just walk up and say “hi,” Alyssa tweeted that she’d like to meet the president. A meeting was arranged, and President Stanley told Alyssa she was a fan of her videos and they talked and Alyssa came out more than impressed. “She really shows why @sunyoswego is awesome,” Alyssa tweeted after the meeting.
But you know what, let’s take this one step further. You always have the ability to make yours a better community. You always have the ability to show others that they matter. Say a kind word. Go do something good. Make somebody happy.
When it comes from the top, the message is strong. But it doesn’t mean that anybody, everybody can’t step up and become a leader of making their community, their world a better place.