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CAMPUS CORRESPONDENCE : A Maligned Generation Is Offered Its Salvation

March 07, 1993|JOE GOODWIN | Joe Goodwin is a high school freshman at Concord-Carlisle High School

CONCORD, MASS. — Many nights I have been coerced into staying at the table, long after dinner is eaten, to listen to my parents retell the triumphs of the Peace Corps or the beneficial effects of the GI Bill of Rights. There was a time, they remind me, when America's youth cared about their country. When the sermon is completed, I'm dismissed and allowed to return to the usual teen-age activity of watching MTV with a bag of chips on hand.

It was during just such a session on Monday night that I became infected with the fever of national service. Watching MTV's special "Your Future, His Plan," I began to understand how 16,000 Peace Corps volunteers could define a generation. The enthusiasm of the Rutgers students listening to Bill Clinton's national-service plan convinced me that my generation, one that usually is the butt of negative jokes, may have found its niche.

The beauty of the program lies first in its commitment to national service. Volunteers will be able to enjoy experiences unavailable to their older brothers or sisters--building houses, working with police and fire departments and teaching children. In return, they will receive a college education.

Hopefully, the professionals who graduate will be unlike any other. Because they will have dealt with people from all walks of life, these professionals may have a stronger sense of corporate responsibility. They may be more willing to give something back to the community that allowed them to thrive and be more generous in providing opportunities.

The program's benefits, however, extend far beyond helping young people get a college education to the inner-city family whose house burned down and desperately needs help to build another; to the mother who will feel more confident of her newborn's protection from disease because of vaccinations, and to the old veteran who merely wishes for someone to talk to. All these people will gain a great deal from national service.

What the President has done for me is provide a conduit through which my desires can become action. Because he plans to expand on existing programs rather than just create new ones, I may be able to do my national service, through a program called City Year, in Boston, near my home. I could help rebuild its inner city, making it a safer place to live and do business. Another program in Boston also interests me. By either working at recycling centers or helping to build more of them, I could contribute to a cleaner environment. These are but two possibilities in a plan geared toward helping students who can't afford to pay for college, work off tuition debt or even to earn financial credit.

Critics of the plan will have much to pick at. The estimated $7.4-billion price tag over four years is high. The layer of bureaucracy probably needed to implement it will draw congressional opposition. Others will contend that private banks should manage their own loans, and that government should leave well enough alone.

To them, I say that government has left well enough alone for 12 years, and things have gone from bad to worse. People, especially young people, voted for Clinton and the kind of change signified by his national-service plan. The President has taken the initiative that the people asked him to take, and now it comes back to the people, particularly my generation, to follow through.

Clinton's program of national service has me and my friends thinking more about the future. I only hope that there will come a day when I will preach boring sermons about Clinton's great national-service plan and its amazing accomplishments to my own frustrated children.

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