Life is for service. These simple words are easy to say, but much more difficult to understand. In my own life, I understood service to be a way to give without expecting reward. I operated under this assumption throughout my time as a student at Rollins College. Whether consoling a friend following a challenging life dilemma or serving the homeless in downtown Orlando, I stepped up to the plate to give away parts of my own strength and love to others. For me, at that time, I knew that my life was for service, and I completely understood what that meant. I was wrong.
With every service trip, with every interaction, my gains outpaced my losses. Whether it was revealing a passion I had never before recognized, a smile or a new friend, I never felt like I gave anything away. For the longest time, I spent my days trying to align this newfound understanding with the role service played in my own life. The truth came during my final day as a Rollins College student.
Graduation day was the confirmation of many things. The finality of one chapter of my life, a reflection upon great friendships and memories and the beginning of a new path marked with even greater challenges and opportunities. I needed nothing more than the presence of close friends and family to see this as a beautiful moment. Yet, during the ceremony I was announced as the recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Medallion which recognizes excellence in character and service to humanity.
Receiving the honor of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Medallion overwhelmed me with great humility and purpose. Not knowing that I was ever even a candidate for the award, and not being informed that I would receive it made the moment all the more special. To be recognized for my character and service in such a surprising manner meant the world to me. As the long-lasting jitters of disbelief passed, I began reflecting on what the moment signified to me. Though unaware at the time, I became tied to the life and legacy of Algernon Sydney Sullivan.
As a lawyer spending much of his adult life in New York City, Algernon Sydney Sullivan dedicated his life to giving voice to the voiceless, habitual generosity and kindness. Due to his selflessness, people were given the dignity of a fair trial and wise words of guidance and comfort. In addition to his work as a lawyer, Algernon gave to his community through a number of community organizations, most notably serving as the first president of the New York Southern Society, which later established the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in his honor.
Upon graduation, I found myself even closer to his legacy of service by pure serendipity. After weighing my options for life after college, I accepted a position in New York City government just two months prior to graduation. The program, named the New York City Urban Fellowship, is a competitive nine-month professional development national fellowship combining full-time employment in a NYC city agency with seminars on policy and government. Along with twenty-three other recent college graduates from across the United States and the world, I work for the largest municipal government in the United States to make positive and sustainable community change.
Through a nuanced placement process, I ended up in the Department of Small Business Services, where I help NYC small businesses start, operate and expand. In this role I have learned a great deal about the role government plays in supporting everyday citizens and promoting larger-scale and more equitable economic growth. I have been given great responsibility since day one, helping to manage a $293 million dollar Federal aid plan for the city, supporting new programs for veteran and low-to-moderate income entrepreneurs, developing new system-wide data management policies and procedures and much more. Although initially skeptical of working and living in New York City, let alone in city government, I truly believe it has been a perfect fit. During my time in New York, I have also had the opportunity to more deeply explore and attach meaning to the life and work of Algernon Sydney Sullivan.
Although New York City is a much different place now than it was during the lifetime of Sullivan, the diversity and passion of its citizens has remained steadfast throughout the years. Walking through the many different neighborhoods of the five boroughs as I commute or provide outreach to small businesses I have developed a strong affinity for the unique combination of resiliency and optimism New Yorkers have. I cannot help from imagining that Algernon held similar feelings.
As I began my first day of work in downtown Manhattan and turned onto William Street, where my office is located, I became curious as to where Algernon spent most of his days. Downtown Manhattan remains the city’s financial and professional hub. After searching through the records of the city and the history of Algernon Sydney Sullivan, I realized that it was on the very same street on which I now work where Sullivan first opened his law practice in New York. As I walk down the street, I think of the rich memories and relationship Algernon must have had walking through those same streets, mulling over new cases or his battles with the infamously corrupt Tweed Ring that crippled the municipal government. Early on in my time in New York City I made a relationship with an all-male public school in the Bronx, The Eagle Academy for Young Men. It is the mission of the school to build lifelong leaders within underserved communities. I committed to providing guidance and assistance to a student at the school as he progresses through the college application process. In addition, I have become a certified poll worker through the New York City board of elections. Additionally, like Algernon, I make it a point to continue anonymous acts of kindness to friends and strangers alike every day.
Although the medallion I received is enough reminder for me to remain steadfast in maintaining an aspect of generosity and humility in my life, sharing the same streets and city as Algernon once did provides even greater motivation. It is uncertain what my future holds. This fellowship period officially ends in May and it is unclear whether or not I will find myself continuing in my current role in city government. Regardless, my time in New York City has been extremely transformational, and one I feel blessed to have experienced. As the New Year began, I looked to become more involved in learning about the memory and legacy of Algernon Sydney Sullivan, as well as others leaving a similar mark on the city today. Ultimately, I hope to bring together, and build the network of those who have either received a Sullivan award, or have an interaction with the legacy and memory of Algernon Sydney Sullivan.
I am excited to say that I now feel as though I truly understand what it means to live a life of service. It is important to give selflessly, but equally as important to embrace and appreciate the many beautiful things one receives in doing so. Algernon Sydney Sullivan anonymously gave with great humility and selflessness throughout his life, so it is only fitting that his legacy continues through awards such as the one I received. I am excited to continue playing a part in further honoring that legacy by developing my own life for service; a life of humbly giving and receiving.