Throughout high school, I sought a diverse range of opportunities to volunteer, working the front desk at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History during the summer after my freshman year, helping students from Nauset Middle School prepare for their mock trial competitions as a junior, and even spending a week in Bucksport, Maine, in order to contribute to the construction of a house for low-income residents when I was a sophomore. However, I ultimately discovered that my abilities are best suited for working with two seemingly disparate groups of people: young children and the elderly. For this reason, I became both a sixth grade teacher in my parish’s religious education program and a volunteer at a local nursing home.

Teaching CCD has involved a variety of responsibilities, including planning lessons and projects, maintaining order in the classroom, answering difficult questions, and learning to appreciate my students’ unique personalities, needs, and goals. I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching because it has enabled me to instill in my students the importance of living honorably and generously, and the eagerness with which they learn never fails to remind me of the tremendous beauty of knowledge and of the truth. Their questions often compel me to contemplate more exhaustively the ideas that I had once taken for granted, and it has been through this contemplation that I have sought to deepen my own understanding of what I teach and what I profess to believe.

As a nursing home volunteer, reading to residents and interacting with them at gatherings and mealtimes has demonstrated to me the immense value of human life and the dignity with which all people, no matter their abilities or background, are endowed. The residents’ appreciation for simple, ordinary things – reading a book, eating a meal – has inspired me with a sense of gratitude for the gifts that I have been given. More than anything else, my interactions with both the young and the old have helped me to become stronger and more empathetic. In college, I hope to major in political science and theology, and no matter what field I choose to pursue, the time that I spent with the children and the elderly will have solidified my commitment to honesty, integrity, and the realization of positive change in the world for the protection of human dignity. Overall, I believe that what I have learned from my students and from the residents at the nursing home will enable me to be more compassionate toward the people I encounter and to maintain an enduring fascination with the simple joys of learning and of sharing the fruits of knowledge.

Nicole O'Leary
2014 Miles Fund Award Winner
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