In a recent contest for elementary, middle school, and high school students in the city of Gaithersburg, Maryland, students were invited to write an essay on how “Character Counts!”  Of those who wrote, there were cash prizes given to the winners.  From that prize money, the winners were asked to donate a fourth of it to a charity of their choice.  This last week we received a check for $62.00 because the High School winner requested that ELCA World Hunger be the charity of choice, primarily because of the impact that World Hunger had on him at the last Youth Gathering.  The author of the essay, and wise soul, was Greg Von Wald.  He graciously allowed me to reproduce the essay here.  Happy reading, and go be the change!

The Change I Wish to See in the World
Let’s be honest, the world we live in right now is in pretty bad shape. Millions live in extreme poverty while a few live in extreme luxury. The poorest 40% of the world’s population accounts for 5% of global income while the richest 20% receive 75% of the income. Most of us today hear these figures and, disgusted by them, we say “Someone should do something about that!!” Mahatma Gandhi had the radical idea that the “someone” should be each and every one of us! Gandhi’s famous quote serves as a call to action to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I first heard this quote when I attended the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Youth Gathering in New Orleans the summer of 2009. I remember thinking to myself, “Yeah! That’s a great idea! I’m going to go home and change the world!” Of course when you are surrounded by 37,000 other Christians, changing the world seems a lot easier than it really is. As I went back to school, I quickly fell back into my daily routine of trying to fit in and soon had forgotten any ambitions to make a change in the world. However, as I have grown older and have started looking at the world around me and the problems my generation will face, this quote has begun to take on a greater meaning for me, and dreams of how I could apply it in my life have become reality. Each summer, through my church’s sponsorship of youth work camps, I have volunteered a week of my
time and effort to travel to economically depressed areas and assist the residents with home repairs. With each service trip, I became conscious of the fact that being the change I wish to see should not end after my one week mission trips are over. Rather it should be a living idea that grows with me and is in my mind every single day.

As I look around, it isn’t hard to find things that need to be changed. They are splashed all over news channels and every time I walk past a newsstand my gaze is bound to be met by a vivid front page picture of someone in need. One day it could be the victims of extreme poverty in villages of West Africa, where people are forced to live on less than $1 per day. Another day it could be the bleak images of the war torn Middle East. Mahatma Gandhi is calling each and every one of us to not just read the articles and look at the pictures, but to go and do something about it. Gandhi believes that we should all take a chance and try to change the world. The newspaper should no longer be our Sunday reading, but it should be our to-do list.

I truly believe that if everyone began to live by Gandhi’s words of wisdom, the world would change in a big way. Instead of accepting multimillion dollar bonuses, the richest 1% of the world would choose instead to use that money to wipe out hunger in entire villages and entire nations. However, revolutions like this tend to start out small, so I plan on living it out in my own life. One day I hope to not only be able to give money to feed those in extreme poverty, but to fly over to Africa and visit with them. I want to laugh at their jokes, and listen to their stories. I want to connect a face and a name to the problem of extreme poverty. I want to demonstrate that I care, not just anonymously but personally.

Additionally, as I begin college, I am planning to major in Integrated Science and Technology and work to develop and refine new methods of renewable energy. Everyone knows that global warming is a problem. Everyone knows that we are burning our fossil fuels at an exponentially increasing rate. Everyone wants someone to change it. I aim to be that change. I hope to reduce our country’s reliance on foreign oil through the production and distribution of renewable energy sources. We all share the same earth and we all need to treat it with respect; global citizenship is everyone’s responsibility. Our world is in desperate need of change and as I look to the future with big eyes and an open mind, I truly hope to make a difference.

Now after hearing these lofty ambitions, the inevitable response that I could expect from most of my classmates is, “But you’re just a kid,” and for now, they are right. But the ambition to “be the change you wish to see in the world” begins with the confidence to say “I can.” In my daily life, I aim to be the change in smaller things. Teaching through example, I have strived to treat everyone with fairness and behave responsibly. By exemplifying good character through my actions, I can begin a small revolution of the heart; spreading peace and love instead of violence and hatred. The movement for sharing and caring has become necessary and who’s to say I can’t start it. As I boldly take the next steps down the foggy trail that is my future, I am bound to reach many forks in the road. Through them all I aim to keep this quote in mind, so that with every decision I make, I can ask myself, “Am I being the change I wish to see in the world?”