Connor discovered his call to service from a lady with a dirty, old sweater.
One summer, Connor was on a service tour with his youth ministry, and one day he and the other members of the ministry volunteered in a homeless shelter. It was Connor’s job to help serve dinner to the residents, and as he was working, he heard a pretty voice humming a gospel tune. Connor looked past a dozen people and saw a lady in a dirty, old sweater. Eventually, she got to the front of the line, and as Connor was about to offer her a spoonful of macaroni, he looked down at the words on her sweater. In plain black letters, it said, “God is so good to me.” He felt like he had been punched in the gut. Connor stared for a few seconds in disbelief, and then he withdrew to the back room in frustration. He thought, “How can she be so thankful when she has nothing?”
Connor thought he had her all figured out from the moment he saw her, but he was wrong. So, he pulled himself together and asked if he could join her for dinner. Connor listened to her story, and he learned a lot from her in those short thirty minutes they shared. That, in itself, is what amazed him most. That is to say, he was stunned to learn so much from a woman who, in his mind, was the least likely candidate in the world to teach him anything.
Now, Connor serves to pay that lesson forward; he wants everyone to know that each person has something to give to someone else. Before coming to Vanderbilt, whether Connor was a kid’s big brother for a day at a local orphanage or was trying to convince his math teacher to participate in his faculty-student basketball game to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Connor wanted to prove to everyone with whom he interacted that all people have common ground on which to share a friendship or a hardship, regardless of age, ethnicity, or any other perceived barrier.
Here, at Vandy, Connor has worked with a service-learning tutoring program through the Spanish Department aimed at helping first generation Latino immigrants in the Nashville community. Through this program, he tutored a Mexican-American sixth-grader named Christopher in his home and in his language, Spanish, and helped him prepare for the state exams, which are given only in English. In the spring of his Freshman Year, Connor led a controversial project through the Women and Gender Studies Department to better understand the current prejudices that existed against gay men in fraternity life and to find solutions to dissolve homophobia for future rushing and pledging processes. To Connor’s amazement, the story of the project made the front page of one of the campus newspapers. Most recently, through the Vanderbilt Initiative for Scholarship and Global Engagement study abroad program, Connor studied social justice and served alongside Costa Ricans on projects in their communities in partnership with local nonprofit organizations, working to reforest national parks or to lead grassroots projects in high schools to improve student welfare in the education system, among other ventures.
One of Connor’s favorite quotes hangs in his dorm room. It says, “Justice requires us to remember that when any citizen denies his fellow, saying ‘His color is not mine’ or ‘His beliefs are strange,’ in that moment, he betrays America.” A big statement, but it is Connor’s truth – and he thinks his friend in the dirty, old sweater would agree.
Connor would like to thank the Ingram family for their consistent generosity to his new home and school in Nashville, to his education, and to his service. Little of his future work could be possible without their support and the support of the program’s associates.