Making time to serve others
By Jim H. Smith
Photograph by Nick Lacy
It was Henry Thoreau
who famously asserted that, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet
desperation." That observation had such a ring of cold
authenticity that it is still routinely appropriated, more than
150 years after it was written.
But Thoreau might have
also observed that the converse of that gray fate is not always a
rarefied clique with the highest profiles. Some people—like the
remarkable man who retreated to the solitude of a modest cabin
near Walden Pond—change the world irrevocably by devoting
themselves to its improvement a day at a time. In defiance of the
ugliness and hopelessness that often color the evening news, they
live lives of quiet distinction, solid achievement, and service to
And you can find them
Massachusetts, for instance. Six miles northwest of Boston, and
just a few miles east of the place where Thoreau composed his
great book, it's an unpretentious kind of town. But its residents
have been quietly transforming the world for several centuries,
just as one of them, Maria Taverna, has been quietly working to
transform the lives of her fellow students and the young people
she mentors on the Trinity campus.
Manufacturing took root
there early, and local factories produced a wide array of goods.
One company was the first in the nation to produce cotton sails
for ships, including the USS Constitution. Another, founded
by Freeland and Francis Stanley, made dry plates for cameras and
launched the Stanley "Steamer" automobile in 1897.
But mostly Watertown is
populated by solid citizens who care about the place where they
live. As its Web site says, "Watertown is rich in ethnic diversity
and culture(and) boasts a high level of citizen involvement." It's
the kind of town where folks enjoy first-rate athletic facilities
and parks, but nobody takes it for granted. Parents reinforce
middleclass values, and most kids have an after-school job.
A student leader who
walks the talk
"The class of 2001 was a very close group," says Watertown High
School mathematics teacher Karen Trendholm. "There were many
strong students in that group. Maria Taverna was a standout among
them." Friendly and popular, Taverna was a National Honor Society
scholar, active in the school's community service club, and very
devoted to Watertown's senior citizens. But, says Trendholm, what
really distinguished her was the commitment and reliability she
brought to those activities.
Taverna was the kind of
student leader who walks the talk. "She would have been an asset
to any school," says Trendholm. "Whatever needed to be done, she
was always the one who took on the responsibility. If there was
extra work to be done, you could count on her to pitch in. She was
a very bright student, but down-to-earth and levelheaded; a hard
worker. There were many strong students in her class, but she
No one was surprised,
says Trendholm, when Maria ended up enrolling at Trinity. The
daughter of an engineer, she always excelled at mathematics,
defying a trend that only a few years ago accounted for a large
gulf between the respective performances of girls and boys in math
and science. But that gap has closed significantly in the last few
years. At Trinity, about half of the students in the math classes
Maria now attends are women.
In Taverna's case, it
was not simply excellence in math that brought her to Trinity.
Though the College enjoys a good reputation among math students,
she says she was interested in the broader scope of liberal arts.
Like many students, she was unsure what sort of career she wanted
to pursue when she arrived in Hartford.
One of the reasons she
came to Trinity, Taverna says, was because she was looking for
opportunities to participate in activities that would help her
grow and explore career avenues. Over the last three years, she
has wisely taken advantage of Trinity's extensive array of career
planning services. For a while, she considered a teaching career.
These days, she says she's leaning toward finance.
Whatever she does,
teaching will almost certainly be a part of it. The young woman
who distinguished herself in high school for her service to others
seems congenitally incapable of not serving.
Service is one of her
Last year, she was a counselor for Dream Camp, the summer camp and
a year-round after-school mentoring program founded at Trinity in
1998 for disadvantaged youngsters from the Hartford area. In order
to be considered an eligible candidate for Dream Camp, students
must be nominated based on merit, character, and or personal
They could not have
asked for a better role model, says Keri Salisbury, a leader with
the Dream Camp program.
"Maria was a hard
worker," says Salisbury, "but she was also one of the kindest
people I've ever met at Dream Camp. We provide after-school
activities for young people. The student counselors help them with
their homework. Maria always added to that experience. She took a
lot of time to get to know the youngsters personally and to treat
them as individuals. I was always impressed with her compassion."
It was also experience
that would payoff this year when mathematics professor Philip
Brown was looking for a student mentor for the first-year seminar
on weather that he has taught for several years. When Brown asked
his former student mentor, Sarah Woog, if she knew any students
who would be good candidates for the slot, Woog didn't hesitate to
The weather seminar
exposes first-year students to a wide ranging overview of
meteorology. They learn about the basic mechanisms of weather and
climate, learn about great storms and catastrophes, and explore
how weather has affected the history of the United States,
including the World War II invasion of Normandy. "I didn't need a
student who was specifically knowledgeable about the weather,"
says Brown, "but I did need a student who could handle the
responsibility. In that respect, Maria came to me with very strong
credentials. It's not always fun being a mentor. It involves a lot
of work. The mentor has to be available to the first-year students
regularly. The job really calls for an exceptional student who can
help new students address many challenges."
The responsibility goes
beyond the one-semester weather class, which meets twice weekly.
As a first-year mentor, Taverna lives in Jarvis, a first-year
residence hall, whose residents include the students from the
weather seminar. Though all of the first-year seminars end in
December, the mentors continue to reside in the halls through the
spring semester and are expected to help the residents with
problems that can range from academic to social.
"My mentor, when I was
a first-year student, was Danielle Marquis," recalls Taverna. "She
was enormously helpful to me and to other students I knew. When I
had an opportunity to take on that responsibility, I jumped at
"It doesn't surprise me
in the least that Maria has been involved in those activities,"
says Trendholm. "Service is one of her strongest assets. She'll be
an asset to any company or organization she works for."
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