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Students to volunteer after graduation

Tori Roeck | Friday, May 20, 2011

Over 160 members of the Class of 2011 will pursue post-graduate service work, said Michael Hebbeler, director of the Center for Social Concern’s Senior Transitions Program.

“There’s a great culture of service learning here and so these students … embody that,” Hebbeler said. “They take that into places that are under-resourced that do need strong teachers, advocates, you name it.”

These seniors will pursue service across a broad range of programs, including Teach for America, Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Hebbeler said.

Hebbeler also said he saw a rising interest in international service. Fifty-seven students applied for positions in the Peace Corps.

Post-graduate service is a real-world application of the lessons many students learned in their classrooms at Notre Dame, Hebbeler said.

“It is a chance to really commit to social issues that need people to work toward change and to address serious concerns of poverty and injustice with an aim toward caring for the people afflicted by these structures and then working to change these structures,” Hebbeler said.

Hebbeler said serving others is a learning experience for graduates.

“Both the person encountered and the Notre Dame student are equally affected by that encounter,” Hebbeler said. “Students are personally challenged by this year of service. They have to wrestle with these issues that they experience through the people they encounter and it causes them to reflect on how they understand themselves in relationship to others and in relationship to the world.”

Hebbeler said the decision to pursue post-graduate service is noble, yet difficult.

“[These students] have chosen a less comfortable path and that takes some courage,” Hebbeler said.

The Center for Social Concerns will honor these students during a special gathering at 1 p.m. Saturday in Leighton Concert Hall.

The speakers at this year’s ceremony will include University President Fr. John Jenkins and Executive Director for the Center of Social Concerns Fr. Bill Lies. Nora Jones Bondi, a 2002 Notre Dame alumna who joined the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago after graduating and remains an employee there to this day, will also speak.

Students will also receive journals to fill with reflections during their time of service, Hebbeler said.

Senior Bianca Fernandez will join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after graduation for one year. In her position, Fernandez will interact with the Hispanic and Native American communities in Omak, Wash., through the Northwest Justice Project, a pro-bono legal services group stationed in the Pacific Northwest.

Fernandez said her time as a resident assistant (RA) influenced her calling to post-graduate service.

“I really enjoyed my year here as an RA and being present in people’s lives, and that’s something that I definitely want to be very conscious of and strive toward in this upcoming year,” Fernandez said.

The mission of the University was also a major factor in her decision to pursue service, Fernandez said.

“I’ve been trying to put my heart in the right place,” Fernandez said. “I am grateful for my education here at Notre Dame particularly because it hasn’t been solely academic. When I’ve spoken to professors, they’ve not only addressed how I’m doing in class but how I’m doing as a person.”

While she is nervous to leave college and begin her post-graduate experience, Fernandez said the next step in her life promises to be an invaluable one.

“I definitely want to gain a wider worldview, challenge myself, make myself uncomfortable in this forced displacement because that is how you grow and that is how you push yourself a little bit further,” Fernandez said. “I’m very sad to leave Notre Dame, but I know I need to do it.”