Lives of Commitment

What are the goals of the Lives of Commitment Program?

The Lives of Commitment program has several goals:

Many students come to Macalester with strong commitments to service and social justice issues: We want students to continue developing their own vision of a socially just society and to find their own ways, formally and informally, to live out their deepest commitments.

Students also come to Macalester with questions about how to integrate their deepest values into their lives as students and their vision of what they would like to do after Macalester. The values could stem from ethical or religious roots, family or ethnic traditions, specific experiences, notions of identity, social movements, etc. We want to provide a safe place to explore those questions and examples of people from the community and campus who are also trying to live out their own values.

Immigrant and refugee issues have become very important in the Twin Cities. We have chosen this theme as a primary focus for the program, because students can make a significant contribution to immigrants and refugee community by teaching English classes, tutoring for the citizenship test or mentoring children.  It also raises important issues of diversity, multiculturalism, and the question of how people make transitions - whether to a new country or the transition from high school to a college, as Macalester students are doing.

Many Macalester students do not want to stay in the "Mac bubble" but want to understand the Twin Cities better and to engage questions of diversity, both in the community and on campus. We hope to get students out in the community right away, help them understand neighborhoods, nonprofits and other community organizations, etc.  In the process we will meet activists, workers in both the nonprofit and for profit sectors, and some amazing people within immigrant and refugee communities.

One need for many first-year students is to find a group of students that can support them, share their commitment to community, and that can grow and change with them. The Lives of Commitment program is NOT all work. We play together; we see the Twin Cities together; we engage in service and social justice activities together; some of the students make their closest friends through the program.

We also find that students crave to find mentors: people both on campus and in the community who can challenge them, connect them with resources, offer encouragement, and just be a friendly and supportive presence. We try to find supportive and engaging faculty and staff members and student leaders who will help guide the program.

How much time does Lives of Commitment take?

Student groups go to nonprofit sites once per week, usually one afternoon or one evening, for about three hours.  On Monday night each month we gather for dinner and have guest speakers, presentations or discussion sessions. These meetings also usually last about two hours. On a second Monday night each month we gather in a small reflection group to apply what was discussed in large group more directly to our own experiences. These groups are made up of the same students and are led by faculty or staff mentors. Two Saturdays each semester we try to schedule optional experiential learning trips in the Twin Cities. The year opens with a pre-orientation retreat and there is a shorter retreat in January.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the nonprofits and the clients of the nonprofits really count on Macalester students to be consistent in their weekly service work. Macalester students are teaching classes, mentoring children, and performing other vital activities at the nonprofit. Please only apply for this program if you are willing to commit to the weekly volunteering and to the monthly large group gathering.

Can I be involved in other activities at Macalester and also be in Lives of Commitment?

Yes, most of our students are involved with other activities, from student groups to musical ensembles to sports. We try to have multiple time options for service. You can select the service work that will fit into your schedule.

But you should be aware that you need to have time to go to your volunteer site one afternoon or evening each week and you need to have Mondays free over dinner. Please consider participation in the Lives of Commitment program to take the same time commitment as would participation in any other co-curricular activity. Sometimes this can be problematic for people who are involved in sports that have long practices each day. If you have concerns about time commitments or scheduling conflicts, we encourage you to email Eily Marlow at or mention your concerns in your application. We will work with you to try to fit Lives of Commitment into your schedule.

In what ways does Lives of Commitment engage "religious" questions?

We anticipate that students in the program will encompass a wide variety of religious traditions as well as students who are not religious or not religious in a conventional way. Past participants have included students who were Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Unitarian-Universalist, Jewish, Baha’i, Buddhist, Quaker, Humanist, Hindu, spiritual but not religious, agnostic, and many who gained their identities from other sources, such as politics, social movements, ethics, or their own personal background.

The key aspect of the program is engaging themes of integrity, values, commitment, and social justice. For some students, this will have a religious component. For others it will not. The program is meant to be an open place to discuss, support, and even challenge one another. Our hope is that each person will feel comfortable enriching our discussions with their own personal perspectives.

What this might mean for a student is that in any small group there could be people who come from different religious traditions or have different spiritual commitments; people who have different political viewpoints; some who have well thought-out ethical commitments and other who are still exploring; people who have different sexual orientations and multicultural identities. Regardless of your own commitments, we would hope that you would be comfortable sharing your own perspectives and also supportive of others even if their opinion differs vastly from your own.

What are the experiential learning trips in the Twin Cities?

Throughout the year we provide optional trips to sites that highlight social justice themes or that introduce students to diverse neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul.  For example, we have taken a trip around the theme of "arts and social change" where we visited several art galleries and theaters, explored an exhibit on race at the Science Museum and gone on a neighborhood tour of sacred sites of new and old immigrants. This is a great way to learn about your new community.

What are some of the topics that you have discussed in the program?

We base our conversation on the topics brought up in the book, Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment Complex World. In the book, author Sharon Daloz Parks and her colleagues interviewed numerous individuals whom they viewed as leading lives of commitment in a diverse array of fields. They asked them questions about what inspired them to go into their particular work and what motivated them to continue despite the challenges they sometimes faced.

Among the topics that emerged from these interviews were

  • the importance of belonging,

  • the nature of compassion,

  • the relationship between courage and imagination,

  • the development of conviction,

  • the power of failure as a means of developing both self-awareness and a renewed sense of purpose.

Each large group and small group focuses on such a topic.  We encourage students to reflect on these diverse topics by applying them to their own context as college students and volunteers who are seeking to discover their place in a broader community (both local and global). We regularly engage in discussion interrogating our motivations for serving in the world, and value the power of learning through deep and active listening.  In many ways we use a model of cooperative inquiry into large questions about how we can live our lives well.  Instead of looking to authority for answers, we approach each large group curious and open to the experiences, ideas and wisdom within our LOC community.

During various retreats and large group meetings, we have invited guests and panels to discuss their interpretation of the different topics that we engage with. For example, a panel of professors working in human rights recently came to large group and discussed their relationship with failure and the moments they discovered their vocation. Last year, singer-songwriter Meg Hutchinson discussed the relationship between her activism and the music she produces. Each year we continue to discover new people who are willing to share with us their experiences with and understanding of living a life of commitment, contributing to the diversity of our community. We also encourage students to share their own stories related to these themes, recogni

How many students get into the program?

We anticipate that there will be about 45-65 applicants and we will accept 35 students into the program.

What can I contribute to the program?

Your commitment to the weekly service work and your enthusiastic participation in the large and small group activities. Lives of Commitment is only as strong as the ideas, energy, and fun that individual students bring to the program. You will also have the opportunity of making a large contribution to nonprofits in the Twin Cities through your teaching, mentoring, and tutoring activities.