Op-Ed: Spring Break Southern Virginia Style

· March 29, 2012

Each year about this time, thousands of college students can hardly wait for what many see as a rite of passage—the notorious spring break.

Many boil this down to a sort of “King’s X” practice that is an exciting part of the college experience without rules or consequences—a chance to celebrate manhood or womanhood and then return to school to announce conquests and boast of incredible experiences. Each year, we hear of gross misconduct—drunken brawls, drug-infused parties, property destruction, physical violence and sexual exploits.
 
Hopefully this is not the experience of most, but where it is, it can leave scars that last a lifetime.
 
Today, I wish to celebrate those who find better ways to have a welcome change from the rigor of regular classes. Some catch up or get ahead on their reading, or they avoid the last-minute crunch by writing a paper that will soon be due. Others take the time to relax from school by returning home to friends and family. I celebrate these types of experiences and even more so those that follow.
 
You see, there is yet another group of students who choose to spend some or all of their spring-break time unselfishly thinking of others and also creating experiences that will affect them for a lifetime, but with far different consequences than the ones we hear about in the news.
 
One such group of students began their break as volunteers for a Remote Area Medical clinic, which provides free dental, medical and vision care to domestic and international patients who cannot afford traditional care. They joined a cadre of dentists, medical doctors, optical specialists and massage therapists from along the East Coast to serve over 600 patients who lined up as early as 3 a.m. to secure the care they needed.
 
Members of the Southern Virginia University Concert Chorale, the Liberty University Concert Choir and the Roanoke College Children’s Choir spent part of their break rehearsing and performing with the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, Masterworks IV: American Voices in War and Peace. Among other works that celebrated peace, patriotism and religious feeling was Bernstein’s masterful Chichester Psalms. These choirs from different faith-based colleges and religious backgrounds joined together to sing in Hebrew this very moving work based on three prayers recorded in Psalms.
 
I spoke with several students who participated in the clinic or the concert. Each reported a life-changing experience. Each displayed a warm, heart-felt smile of satisfaction that is often lacking in this all-too-busy world.
 
Other students from Southern Virginia University spent their break visiting and studying The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints historical sites and participating in religious worship at the Nauvoo Illinois Temple. The university’s men’s and women’s basketball teams participated in the USCAA Division I National Tournament in Pennsylvania. Another group traveled to Paris for hands-on study of photography and art. Theatre students spent their break in New York City, seeing live shows, enjoying backstage tours and learning more about theatre from Broadway professionals.
 
The experiences I cite all include students from Southern Virginia University, but I wish to honor students of all faiths and backgrounds who find better things to do with their spring break than to seek degrading experiences that taint their lives with unwholesome memories.
 
I look forward to a time when students whose academic institutions offer spring break use the time as an opportunity to rest from the rigors of the standard curriculum by serving others, learning outside the classroom and creating wholesome memories to share with future children and grandchildren.
 
Is this really possible? I believe it is. The medical clinic volunteers, the choral groups and the others mentioned are really the ones who have something to brag about. However, among the noise of others’ base conquests, these quieter experiences of a lifetime will rarely be heard or published. They will remain in the warm and satisfying places of the heart. Perhaps that is where they belong.

Richard G. Whitehead is acting president and vice president of institutional advancement at Southern Virginia University. A version of the piece also was published in the Deseret News on Thursday, March 29, 2012.