Of gratitude and global citizenship

By Helen Warren

Some of Macalester’s liveliest discussions arise from efforts by faculty and students to define what it means to be a global citizen. There is no disagreement that intellectual agility is required, including enough mental floorspace to walk around and inspect beliefs to which we do not (now) give assent. For my part, I nominate the ability to feel and express gratitude as a capacity all global citizens should develop. This nomination is a consequence of the work I do to connect students to donors who fund their scholarships and because I pay close attention to public addresses made by Hector Pascual Alvarez ’08, the 2008 recipient of Macalester’s Global Citizenship Award.

While gratitude seems like a simple thing, it is not. It is hard to express regard for a stranger who provides financial aid so you can attend Macalester. It’s hard to describe what the gift means because its true consequences are not yet fully known.

It’s hard to step around the platitudes and clichés that come to mind most readily and make a genuine statement about the generosity of strangers. And it is hard to find the quiet moments in the midst of all the studying, the research, the academic writing, the activism, the conviviality with friends, to think where you might be had scholarships not been available.

Though it is hard, it can be done superbly. Recently, I asked Hector Pascual Alvarez to make brief remarks at a campus event attended by Shelby Davis, the benefactor who provides financial aid to Macalester students who are graduates of the United World Colleges. It was an imposition, a request that came shortly before the event, when Hector was deep in rehearsals for a play, and had a dozen other projects under way. But Hector accepted the challenge and offered these simple words to our honored guests:

“When I think about your generosity, I imagine you standing at the back of the room, past the audience I am addressing, smiling and silently urging me to do my best with the gifts I have been given. I will look up and imagine you standing there throughout my life. Thank you.”

Hector’s words are memorable because they transform an impersonal exchange into a vital human encounter, resonant with aspirations that connect us to strangers. No matter how different we are from each other or how much we might disagree, gratitude connects us to the generosity of others. To be grateful is itself a generous gesture, not required but essential.

As the academic year draws to a close, I hope Macalester students will take every opportunity to express their gratitude for those who stand at the back of their lives, urging them on. It is especially important to express gratitude to those you do not know well or at all. Their generosity to students they do not know deserves acknowledgment.

Contact Helen Warren, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, at [email protected]