Queen's University

The urge to "pay it forward"

Review Editor Ken Cuthbertson muses about why people give to Queen's and other worthwhile causes.

When I was an undergraduate at Queen's back in the early 1970s, I and many of my classmates were a cynical lot. We had reason to be. The world was a troubled place, and I marvel that we got through all of the mess. Mind you, there was a heavy price to be paid. We became a generation of cynics. I'm not sure what we ended up believing in or what we wanted in life. About all that we knew with any degree of certainty was that we rejected our parents' values. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

Baby Boomers – and yes, I confess to being one – emerged as the most pampered, selfish, and narcissistic generation in the history of the planet. The demographers tell us that our party – which, truth be told, was more of an orgy of conspicuous consumption than a party – is winding down, but it ain't over until the proverbial Fat Lady sings, and she's still waiting in the wings.

Yet it's already evident that others will be left to pay the bill, clean up the mess, and repair the gaping holes torn in the "social fabric" by my generation's reluctance to engage or to give a darn about anyone but ourselves.

That nagging awareness, which is nothing to be proud of, gives me cause to reflect on the selfless behaviour of some of the caring, public-minded people I meet each day in my work here at the Review.

Nowadays, when volunteerism is an endangered civic attribute, public service can get a bad rap, and it's increasingly difficult for institutions such as universities, hospitals, and other worthwhile causes to raise vital dollars, thankfully there are still many people who get involved, who give their money or volunteer their time. Sometimes both.

Why do they do it? An intriguing question, that. It's one I've thought about.

What conclusions have I come to? Regrettably, none. About all I've figured out is that there are no easy or pat answers.

The reasons people support worthwhile causes or "get involved" are as varied as the personalities of those who do so. That said, there is one common element that I can cite: a feeling of engagement and responsibility.

I mention all of this by way of introducing our cover story for this issue ("It's what this place has always been about ..." p. 22), which delves into one of the distinguishing features of life at Queen's: the deeply rooted sense of community and spirit of initiative that links successive generations of students and alumni.

If you've ever chanced to meet up with another Queen's alumnus – whether socially, while traveling, or in a work-related situation – you'll know what I'm talking about. There's an instant bond, a sense of kinship. ("Do you know ...?" "Did you have Prof. So-and-so ...?)

The Review recently interviewed three alumni and five frosh about their Queen's experiences. The former are members of the Class of 1965, the latter members of the Class of 2015. While these individuals were randomly selected, I hoped they'd be representative of the larger Queen's family, and as it happens, I think they are.

What struck me about each of the people we talked with is that although the members of the Class of 1965 and those from the Class of 2015 are separated by a half-century and a world of change, there are common Tricolour threads that bind them. There's a universality and a timelessness to "the Queen's experience" that gives rise to a sense of community and an urge to give back and "pay it forward" – to borrow a phrase from that 1999 novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde (and the 2000 Kevin Spacey movie) of the same name. When you read the profiles, see if you don't agree

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Queen's Alumni Review, 2011 Issue #4Queen's Alumni Review
2011 Issue #4
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