On a recent beautiful Saturday afternoon, my family joined hundreds of others to enjoy the Elizabethtown Holiday Parade. The annual event is a wonderful seasonal celebration of the small-town charm of Elizabethtown. Bands, sports teams, scout troops, veterans and members of local businesses walked, marched and drove past the cheering crowds, distributing candy as they went.
The joyful event was also a stark reminder of the invisibility of Elizabethtown College to our local community. In my 12 years in Elizabethtown, I have never seen the College participate in this highly visible celebration. The only representative of higher education in our town’s parade this year was ECTV, who filmed the event.
I don’t mean to suggest our campus doesn’t care about the local community or that we fail to live up to our motto of Educate for Service. Our faculty, staff and students assisted by the Center for Community and Civic Engagement work closely with local groups on a wide-range of projects.
Our involvement in the Winter Shelter, an effort to address homelessness in the Elizabethtown area, is testament to our caring. All of these activities matter to those directly involved, but they are also quite hidden from the larger community.
In our refusal to participate in big local events, such as the Holiday Parade and the Elizabethtown Fair, we are missing an opportunity to improve our standing in the community in a very visible way. The College is among the three top employers in town, and yet we are the only one that does not participate in the community’s major traditions.
Why is that? The answer could be as innocuous, but still pathetic, as being too cheap to pay the modest entry fee. The answer could be that we are simply too busy to participate; our priorities are elsewhere. The answer could also arise from something far worse, perhaps a feeling of superiority to our community. We will help you, we will serve you, but we will not be a part of you.
As we seek to enhance our national recognition, let’s not forget about our local reputation. Every young eye watching that parade could be a future Blue Jay, but only if they know we exist and are excited by our presence.
Let’s not assume those local youngsters already know about the College. If we want to serve our community, then let’s be a visible part of the community. Let’s participate in the events that make Elizabethtown special. Doing so will make the College even more special.