Stamatakis: Celebrate initiative during Pitt’s 225th anniversary

By Nick Stamatakis

It’s not every Feb. 28 that a university celebrates its 225th anniversary. But although many… It’s not every Feb. 28 that a university celebrates its 225th anniversary. But although many departments are commemorating the occasion in some way or another, few have embraced Pitt’s “225 Acts of Caring” initiative.

This initiative seeks to encourage volunteerism amongst students, faculty and staff. It fits nicely with the anniversary’s overall “Building Better Lives” theme, and promotes the image of the University as a positive influence in the community. Plus, “225 Acts of Caring” will look and sound appealing on University programming and publications.

We might be missing an opportunity by choosing this as our slogan, however. While we would never want to champion something controversial or even brow-raising — “225 Celebrations of Reproductive Rights” just doesn’t sit well — we should want something that at least challenges us in some meaningful way.

After all, these kind of campaigns are at least marginally instrumental in changing the character of a place. If nothing else, they help to set an overall atmosphere. Consider the Olympic opening ceremonies: the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening song, which roughly translated to “China is awesome,” might not have influenced the actual awarding of medals, but it nonetheless deeply impacted the feel of the games. Because “225 Acts of Caring” will appear everywhere, the impact here will be similar: While technically inconsequential, it will still be important in establishing our sense of identity.

Unfortunately, “225 Acts of Caring” just restates everything we already know about this University. Events like Pitt Make a Difference Day and Alternative Spring Break constantly remind us of our responsibility to society. Our brochures already espouse the life-improving innovations of our medical research. Even the Pitt Promise emphasizes the “development of a caring community” with “concern for others.”

In short, we already know that this University cares about creating locally and globally attuned citizens. By making the effort our anniversary theme as well, we’re wasting potential; it’s as if China were using the opening ceremonies to say nothing more than, “These are the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.”

It would have been wiser to focus our slogan on what Pitt could become instead what it already is. By treating the anniversary not only as a celebration of the past, but a prediction of the future, the message’s power could have improved tomorrow’s University of Pittsburgh.

From a student-life perspective, our campus could benefit from a few inspiring slogans. In 2011 The Daily Beast named us the 20th-least-rigorous university, so “225 Acts of Industriousness,” while a bit of a mouthful, could have pushed us into a more respectable position. There’s also a widespread and somewhat valid complaint that Pitt students lack school spirit — “225 Acts of Pride” might help remedy this.

Many people might nonetheless take issue with either of these slogans: The first has too many S’s to be useful and “225 Acts of Pride” evokes either “The Lion King” or LGBTQ issues — neither of which represents the entire campus.

In any case, there’s one slogan that could have still effectively addressed more aspirational goals: “225 Acts of Initiative.”

On the surface, this is admittedly a bit redundant: An act of anything — caring or otherwise — is a sign of initiative. But on a deeper level, the phrase embodies all that is good about the University and all that could be good: a perfect balance for our opening ceremonies.

It calls attention to the ways we already show initiative as a group — our hundreds of self-started student organizations and self-started research projects, for example.

More importantly, however, the slogan offers guidance on how to make the University a better place. Individual acts of initiative distinguish excellent academic communities from average academic communities. Afew students with initiative are all that separate this school from a prouder school with more numerous and meaningful traditions.

If this sounds deliriously high-minded, it is. But these sort of campaigns are designed that way. We don’t watch Olympic opening ceremonies for advice on how to file our taxes — we watch them because their messages transcend the boring details of our day-to-day lives.

Our 225th anniversary is an occasion to celebrate something of symbolic significance. While “225 Acts of Caring” is a laudable directive, it doesn’t fully embrace a more forward-looking attitude that could improve the University in the next 225 years.

Contact Nick at [email protected]