My Turn: Choosing a life of public service

Posted: Monday, June 10, 2002

I have heard nothing but praise and admiration from those who had the opportunity to meet with New York Police Officer Rick Mack during his visit to Juneau last week. The pictures and stories he shared of the tragedy in New York; the heroism of the police, firefighters, and other emergency response workers; and the unimaginable search and recovery efforts during the months since were reportedly illustrative and inspiring.

I am equally pleased that our Juneau-Douglas High School graduates and their friends and families were able to hear Sgt. Mack speak of the next step in their lives and challenge them to accept nothing "less than you want." Tragedy and senseless loss of life often remind us how uncertain the future is and prompt reflection on how we want to live the life that is granted us. Commencement speakers have been prompting "carpe diem" for centuries.

Graduates and their families also might want to consider another point when discerning meaning and message out of a 9/11. There is no pursuit more noble than public service.

Here, I am not talking about the politically connected, popularly elected, or cubical-confined public employee (like me). Certainly, the work of such people can be essential to the public good and welfare. Most of us can identify countless conveniences, services, benefits, and securities that flow from the efforts of government workers. We should be grateful that so many dedicated people commit themselves to the care, education and protection of our children; to the inspection of the public market place; to the scrutiny of fair and safe practices regarding labor and commerce; to the struggle against public hazards; and to the promotion of wellness and civic compassion.

In this limited space, however, I want to suggest to the Class of 2002 that the events of Sept. 11, 2001 should remind us that the highest order of heroism is reserved for those who are prepared to kiss their families goodbye each day with no assurance they'll return. It is an honor reserved for those who don the uniform of a police officer, firefighter, combat pilot, emergency medical technician, sailor, nurse, customs agent, infantryman, skipper, or mate in the pursuit of public safety and security or military service. It is an honor reserved for the men and women who voluntarily place themselves in harm's way to protect and serve their fellow citizens. These are people we should honor and the role models we should strive to emulate.

Certainly our graduates, and virtually all citizens, are entitled to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness: They have the right in this great nation to have no other ambition than to "live well" as Sgt. Mack put it. What makes this nation truly great, however, is that every citizen also has the opportunity to consider and pursue a life of public service (not just public employment). He or she can become part of the proud tradition of military service or can become a member of a volunteer fire department. One can make a career of law enforcement or emergency response or volunteer for search and rescue. A person may watch our borders, patrol our waters, and safeguard our travel and well being. The opportunities are local, national and global. One does not have to be the strongest, boldest, or even the brightest to be a hero. But, you have to be ready and willing to sacrifice it all in the service of your neighbors and fellow citizens.

To those few graduates, other young adults who have what it takes, and who choose to model themselves after the heroes of public or military service, I say thank you. And, I too salute you!

LeRoy Davis of Juneau is a concerned observer of the erosion of civility in Southeast Alaska who still has faith in the resiliency of our nation's youth.

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