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MHS GRAD: Service is everyone's duty

My favorite sport has always been the one and only American pasttime: baseball.

I have been raised rooting for the Chicago Cubs and the Minnesota Twins for as long as I can remember. From when I started to play at age 5, until I chose to pursue my musical aspirations in high school, I received some of the most character-defining lessons of my young life through baseball.

One of these lessons came during my first season of 12-and-under ball, on Bob Everson's team, the Mitchell Thunder. Bob had a great big, Cabela's bag, with space enough to fit all of the essential equipment inside: batting helmets, catcher's gear, bats, balls and, as we joked, a dead body or two. As soon as the game or practice was over, it was the team's job to clean up the dugout, pack the bag and carry it out to Bob's SUV, all upon the penalty of two team laps around the field. Usually, two different guys were assigned to the tedious chore every time, which evenly distributed the responsibility among the team. No matter how tired, sweaty or unhappy I was, I made sure that I was one of the guys that helped clean up and carry that bag, because, after all, I didn't want to run laps any more than the next guy.

As I got older, I found that in my different activities, someone needed to carry the bag, so I stepped in. There was no assignment chart, nor the threat of running laps, but I saw a job that needed to be done, and so I lent a hand wherever I could. After returning from a 13-hour jaunt to a Chicago Show Choir competition, I saw that the bus needed cleaning, and even though it was 4 a.m., I decided to carry the bag. At the end of a Monday-night band rehearsal, I noticed that a few underclassmen needed to be given a ride home, and even though I had homework, stank like a rotten tomato after the long, humid practice, and wanted only to go home myself, I carried the bag. In the near future, if I am presented with the opportunity to volunteer at a soup kitchen, or ring a Salvation Army Bell, I will carry the bag, just as I have done before.

I acknowledge that doing something as small as carrying a bag may be neither noble, nor exciting. However, I believe that while consistent, daily acts of service are humbling, they are equal in terms of necessity and significance to large, one-time acts. Opportunities for service in this manner are seldom glamorous, and oftentimes inconvenient. True service is a countercultural concept that very few of us have truly exemplified. It does not transpire out of a desire to be recognized, but out of an honest concern for our neighbor. It calls us to decry and turn away from the modern social norms of egocentrism and utilitarianism.

A great example of true service is Pope Francis, who recently became the first pontiff to be put on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, and more importantly, the first pope to be liked by Rolling Stone, which included a published article that praised his humility and commitment to the poor. Why? Because he has made it his mission to live as a servant; he carries the bag. With this philosophy, even one of the most liberally-biased publications in America will take notice, a fact that highlights how indiscriminate and widely-appreciated that simple, everyday service is.

The only way that carrying the bag can make a difference, however, is if we utilize every opportunity that we have been given. The select group of individuals, including the pope, that act as our role models, have shown us that service is a state of existence. It is living every day in a manner that makes a gift of oneself to others. Visible acts of service, such as fundraising for a family with medical needs, or volunteering for a mission trip, can not only change lives, but they can change hearts. But service can also be found in our everyday lives, by carrying out mundane tasks that often go unnoticed: cleaning up a bus, offering transportation to a band kid, putting out Memorial Day flags at 5 in the morning, or even by shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor. These small opportunities are easy to ignore if we don't closely monitor our surroundings and look to help. Consequently, true servitude, is the most difficult commitment to make, especially in a fast-paced society directed by a crammed schedule. Yet, if we can learn to adapt our everyday lives in order to repay the world for the great gifts that it has given us, we will leave it better-off than when we arrived, and ultimately, that is what we must strive for.

Whether or not I receive an award, I am incredibly honored that a distinguished organization such as the Rotary Club has recognized me. I do not seek to be lauded for my exploits, because I think that service is everyone's duty. I am no more praiseworthy than any one of my peers. However, I do wish to challenge others, particularly my generation, to make service our way of life. I compel them to action, so that we may commit to improving our world through conscious humanitarianism. Together, we shall take part in a constant effort to help where we are needed; we will pick up and carry the bag.

-- Joe Morgan, a 2014 graduate of MHS, was named this year's "Service Above Self" Rotary Scholar by the Mitchell Rotary Club. This is the essay he presented during the recent Rotary banquet.