This summer, a few classmates and I traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, to work on the Joe Biden Presidential Campaign. Having put the trip together at the last minute, two weeks before we intended to go, we were still without a home and without a job. A last-ditch email to a few friends our parents knew connected us with a friend of a friend who offered to put us up. Little did we know, this stranger would share much more than his home with us on our two-week adventure to the Midwest.
We met him when we landed. To our surprise, a cigar-toting, eighties-rock-blasting man well north of sixty came to pick us up. “Well, well, well, if it isn’t my Washington, D.C., boys! Come on in!” he said. I looked at my classmate Aidan, and we both shrugged, not sure if this was our guy or even who this man was. But we got in the car and headed to our temporary home.
Meet Rob Tully, a former Iowa Democratic chair who was also known as “the oldest teenager in the world.” Over the next two weeks, Rob taught us a lot about politics but even more about life. Every day a new political figure, Republican or Democrat, visited the house. In fact, Rob left his door unlocked 24-7; I’d constantly be surprised by new people showing up. One morning I woke up and two people I’d never seen before were near my bed. “Go back to sleep,” they said, and I did. (If this had happened at home, I would have thought I was being robbed.)
At first, I assumed Rob’s open-door policy was some kind of Midwestern custom. “Everyone here is so nice to each other,” I thought. However, my initial evaluation overlooked the intense good Rob demonstrated with so many people on a day-to-day basis.
Rob let us sit and talk for hours with every person who came into his house. While politics were always part of the conversation, the visitors constantly reverted back to key takeaways that led not only to their personal and public success, whether financial or political, but also to a fulfilling life. Loyalty, charity, compassion—all were major themes in the talks we had, regardless of the speaker’s party affiliation. The most common value mentioned regarding Rob himself is generosity. Rob was generous in a multitude of ways: for having us, complete strangers, in his home; for feeding us; for showing us around Des Moines, where we knew no one; for letting us, high school seniors, talk endlessly to some of Iowa’s and the nation’s elite; for teaching us children the true meaning of generosity.
He opened not only his home to us, but also his community, his values, his philosophy—he opened up his life to us in a way usually only parents do.
It’s not every day that you encounter someone who leaves his door open—always—and treats a stranger like a close friend. Rob is truly what I would call a generous spirit.
At St. Albans, we witness other examples of this generosity. Our teachers leave their doors open for office hours, even if they’ve taught four classes that day and want nothing more than to go home and rest.
Last year I was especially interested in taking a cybersecurity class. I selected it as an elective, but the class was not scheduled because of a lack of interest. I talked to computer science teacher Mr. Hansen, and we figured out a way to move another student’s independent study to my free period, bring in a third student who wanted to take the class, and create one mega cybersecurity class—with only three students. Mr. Hansen created a new curriculum and quizzes, advised three vastly different final projects, and gave up a free period for an entire semester to further the learning of the three of us.
Like Rob and like all our teachers, Mr. Hansen is a generous spirit. His attitude and enthusiasm about learning, his lived philosophy of teaching students both in and out of the classroom, and his sustained effort to be generous makes him a generous spirit. Generosity is not one action, it’s a mindset. It’s not something you can have, it’s something you strive for, it’s a way of thinking.
Consider moments in your life when someone went out of the way to help you when there was nothing in it for themselves. Perhaps the kindness of a stranger teaches us this lesson more readily than our friends can.
In the Book of Leviticus, God tells the Israelites who have escaped from Egypt to treat strangers like friends, for that is what he did for them in Egypt. God is sending down his word and his law to them. He’s commanding them to show compassion to others in the same way God offered care to them. More importantly, God is asking the Hebrew’s not to act like the Egyptians, who oppressed them at every turn. It’s important and morally right to be generous in spirit to those around you. Don’t just take it from me, or Rob, or our teachers. Take it from God.
Life at school is busy. While that’s generally good, it’s incredibly easy to get caught in the moment and lose the bigger picture. With a myriad of tests and quizzes and extracurricular meetings and whatnot, it’s hard to stop and go out of your way to be generous.
I implore you to change your thinking radically: focus on the grand scheme of life, and zero in on how you can constantly strive to be a generous spirit. Humans aren’t always right, and we’re bound to make mistakes, but there is no harm in trying to be perfect.
Try and follow Rob’s example, our teacher’s examples, even God’s example, and always help the other fellow.