This past April, President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, expanding AmeriCorps. But, he said, you don’t have to join AmeriCorps to be of service . . .
All that’s required on your part is a willingness to make a difference. And that is, after all, the beauty of service. Anybody can do it. You don’t need to be a community organizer, or a senator, or a Kennedy — (laughter) — or even a President to bring change to people’s lives.
When Ted Kennedy makes this point, he also tells a story as elegantly simple as it is profound. An old man walking along a beach at dawn saw a young man picking up starfish and throwing them out to sea. “Why are you doing that?” the old man inquired.
The young man explained that the starfish had been stranded on the beach by a receding tide, and would soon die in the daytime sun. “But the beach goes on for miles,” the old man said. “And there are so many. How can your effort make any difference?” The young man looked at the starfish in his hand, and without hesitating, threw it to safety in the sea. He looked up at the old man, smiled, and said: “It will make a difference to that one.”
To Ted, that’s more than just a story. For even in the midst of his epic fights on the floor of the Senate to enact sweeping change, he’s made a quiet trek to a school not far from the Capitol, week after week, year after year, without cameras or fanfare, to sit down and read with one solitary child.
Ted Kennedy is that young man who will not rest until we’ve made a difference in the life of every American. He walks down that beach and he keeps on picking up starfish, tossing them into the sea. And as I sign this legislation, I want all Americans to take up that spirit of the man for whom this bill is named; of a President who sent us to the moon; of a dreamer who always asked “Why not?” — of a younger generation that carries the torch of a single family that has made an immeasurable difference in the lives of countless families.
We need your service right now, at this moment in history. I’m not going to tell you what your role should be; that’s for you to discover. But I’m asking you to stand up and play your part. I’m asking you to help change history’s course, put your shoulder up against the wheel.
And if you do, I promise you your life will be richer, our country will be stronger, and someday, years from now, you may remember it as the moment when your own story and the American story converged, when they came together, and we met the challenges of our new century.
☞ Looking to volunteer? Here’s one place to help you look. Or you could just take up the cause most dear to him. Come back tomorrow.