It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a month since Elon University students junior Taylor Zisholtz and freshman Lucy Smith-Williams surprised Acorn Coffee Shop worker Kathryn Thompson with the opportunity to take her family to Disney World. With the amount of local buzz and national coverage the story initially received (and still continues to receive, including a recent appearance by Thompson, Zisholtz and Smith-Williams on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show"), it's only natural that this story would still be popular.
Nevertheless, enough time has passed now that I believe we can reflect on the deed of these two students and how we might be able to apply similar thought processes to our own actions. What Zisholtz and Smith-Williams chose to do for Thompson was ambitious and showed true depth of character. For that, I — in addition to nearly everyone in the Elon community — commend them for their efforts. I have heard the occasional counterargument, though, that while the two students ultimately accomplished a heartwarming deed, it was a deed dedicated solely to only one of the many hardworking people here at Elon.
It’s entirely possible that Thompson’s situation is not distinctive, that there are other Elon workers — whether they be faculty, staff, etc. — who also have dream vacations that they lack the funds to take. GoFundMe pages can't be created and funded completely every day, especially in a community as small as Elon. But I think the problem with this particular argument is that it seems to assume that Zisholtz’s and Smith-Williams’ action (and all the media attention it received afterward) created a new standard for thoughtful and heartwarming interactions between students and staff.
For students, doing something kind for faculty or staff doesn’t have to be bold or dramatic, nor does it have to be especially newsworthy. The point is that students should always remember that faculty and staff are more than just professors and workers: they're real people with real needs. I believe even a gesture as subtle as a simple, “How are you?” can likely go a long way to bridging the gap between students and faculty and staff.
The key at this point is to remain attentive and aware of your options. After all, how would Zisholtz and Smith-Williams have become inspired to start their GoFundMe if they hadn’t learned of Thompson’s wish to take her family to Disney World through innocent conversation? We don’t necessarily need to think of this one act of goodwill as exemplary for how we should act every day, but we should take it as a sign of our potential, what we can do when the motives are so dear to us.
I’d be happy to see more stories like Thompson’s come from the Elon community in the future, at least on an occasional basis. As many have remarked, this story shows in particular what makes Elon students so great: having the conscience to identify the problem and being proactive enough to solve that problem. Until then, the least we can do is look for ways to strengthen our community and put into practice the values and principles that first drew the nation’s eyes to our school.