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Community – Just What Does It Mean?

My son is a high school senior so we’ve spent some time visiting college campuses.  He’s looking for a challenging academic program where he feels part of a vibrant on-campus community that likes to have fun while learning.

The visits and his responses made me think about what comprises a community and how it has changed.

  • As a child, we played with the other kids in our neighborhood and they became our friends. The furthest we ventured was about 4 blocks up/down the hill. Yet we were a hearty band of about 15 people. We were a tight-knit group who stayed together through high school.
  • College changed all that because we “went away” to school and made new friends in a new community. The neighborhood gang turned into the sorority, dorm or major friends. In my case, Whitman was its own community of 1,100 students who connected on many levels – adjusting to being away from home, academic rigors, social challenges of colleges, remoteness of Walla Walla to name a few.

I’m dating myself here but these things all occurred before there were cell phones, or even computers and the Internet like we have today. Our reliance on those near us was critical and we banded together using lifelong bonds. The College – well beyond its wonderful academics – made me who I am today.

The bulk of that is based on the community established at Whitman and nurtured over the years. I contrast my experience with my son’s, even though we’ve tried hard to insure a fairly traditional upbringing.

  • My sons went to preschool beginning at 18 months and have friends throughout the city because of it. Many in their core group of friends in elementary school have moved away or live in another part of town. But they still communicate using social media tools or texting.

I just wonder if the bonds and commitment will last. And if they don’t have we lost part of the fabric of our community. Have we lost the reason to help our neighbor because we don’t know them? To help a fellow student because they look different from us?

It was gratifying to have my son discuss the three colleges we visited from a sense of what I believe is true community. Each of the schools is academically strong. The differences are in the intangible and sense of belonging one feels. He wants to go where he feels he belongs, where “everybody knows your name” but also where you’re free to express yourself in a variety of ways. These are his descriptions:

  • Just felt kind of dull and boring to me. They didn’t seem to care a lot about each other
  • Nice feeling and quiet but they go downtown for their entertainment so don’t seem to hang out together
  • Lots of variety and cool stuff going on that I could enjoy. Kids just running in/out of each others’ rooms.

Okay, I’ll admit that the college he enjoyed the most is also my alma mater but I think he’s looking at the right things. He’s recognizing what makes up the fabric of his community. What’s sewn into your life’s fabric? Critical to your community? How can we make sure others understand the importance of community, and that it’s whatever you make of it as long as it’s irreplaceable.

Photo credit: Whitman College

By | 2018-03-18T23:00:38+00:00 September 21st, 2010|Leadership & Networking|0 Comments

About the Author:

Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, runs a strategic communications consultancy where she helps clients understand how to integrate new media into traditional communication programs. Mary has counseled clients in Tacoma, Anchorage, San Francisco, Oregon, and Colorado for nearly 40 years working with a variety of food organizations, several agencies, and as a key team member on two successful US Senate campaigns. 


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