Reflections from the Road

President, Campus Compact

This past weekend, I rode 150 miles on my bicycle. Along with 2000 other people, I rolled out on Saturday from Quincy, MA, along the South Shore to Bourne, where Cape Cod begins to extend out into the Atlantic. We spent Saturday night in the dorms at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and headed out Sunday morning for the ride up and around Cape Cod to Provincetown.

I have done a version of this ride—sometimes 150 miles, sometimes 175—each of the past six years. I ride with a small group of friends and family members collectively known as Team Trenton, after the New Jersey city in which my spouse and I used to live. We have ridden in New Jersey, Delaware, and now Massachusetts.

We ride to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the organization that supports research and treatment in the fight against MS. This year, our team of six people rode with 2000 others and raised more than $12,000 toward a total ride goal of $2.75 million.

I get enormous satisfaction out of our annual MS ride. I enjoy the physical challenge, the camaraderie of riding with Team Trenton and thousands of strangers, the support we get from friends and family who contribute financially and with encouragement, the enthusiasm of the hundreds of volunteers who make it all happen, and the knowledge that we are helping our fellow human beings live more fulfilling lives.

There is a special pleasure in riding with my brother-in-law, who has lived with MS for the last 30 years. He is able to cycle 150 miles because of treatments developed through the research funded by Bike MS rides across the United States. He is a single father, so his health means everything not only to him but to our niece. We all know as we push ourselves up the biggest hills that there are hundreds of thousands of families like ours benefiting from our efforts.

When you ride 150 miles, you have time to think; here are some of my reflections from the ride. As you will see, they don’t all fit neatly together, but that is often true of reflections, and in this case I can always claim my brain was fatigued and sun-baked.

I value living in a country where so many people are willing to contribute time and money to benefit others. But I would also value living in a country that spent more on basic scientific research and on ensuring that everyone had access to high-quality health care. Volunteerism and charitable contributions can do a lot, but we also express our shared values through public policy, and I would like to see us make a binding commitment to the health of each and all of us. I believe we can be a country that makes this commitment.

Riding 150 miles is hard, but it does not challenge us as much as crossing lines of class and race to solve problems in our communities. Raising money for causes we all agree about is a great thing to do, but it is hard not to notice that participating in an event like this is not a possibility for many people. You need to be enmeshed in the kinds of social networks that allow you to meet fundraising minimums. You need to be able to afford the sort of bike and equipment required for a long ride. You need to be able to take a weekend away from work and family responsibilities. I feel very good about my participation in the ride, but I am also reminded that I must do more work toward a just and equitable society.

My work at Campus Compact is about those larger goals. I believe colleges and universities should be maximizing their contributions to the public good, and I don’t believe we are there yet. We can do more to educate students to become agents of positive change, and we can do more to build partnerships that advance progress toward justice and equity. You can ride 150 miles in a weekend, and it’s worth doing. The work of building the society we seek will last a lifetime, and it’s also worth doing.

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