Multiplication Tables and Happiness

By: 
Ross McMullan
Class of: 
2016

I believe one of our biggest purposes in life is to use whatever gifts we have been given, however big or small they may be, to help those who are less fortunate. That can mean helping those who are rich, those who are poor, those who are sad or those who are hungry. I truly believe that helping others is the only way to achieve lasting happiness. Have you ever made someone else happy? It makes you happy, too.

During my freshman and sophomore years at St. Lawrence, I was happy to coordinate a few food drives and merchandise fundraisers as part of a program called Face-Off with Hunger that benefitted the Canton Church and Community Program. Face-Off with Hunger was a project started by two of my teammates on the men's hockey team who I had the benefit of learning from during my first year. I didn't just sign on to help because they were awesome guys; their motivation for creating the program was reason enough. In St. Lawrence County, which is home to Canton and our campus, 12.5 percent of people deal with food insecurity. That means that almost 1 in 8 people are unsure as to where their next meal will come from.

This post is not about enlightening you about local issues, but it’s important for me to make a point about how we are not all born on an equal playing field. What I learned as part of the Face-Off with Hunger project is information I want everyone to know. As students at St. Lawrence University, we are equals in the sense that however good, bad, or ugly we believe our lives have been up to this point, we have all been given the opportunity to use this institution to better ourselves in the best possible ways. There are people in this world whose lives will never grant them that opportunity. Some of those people grew up in our hometowns and some of them make up the community that is intertwined with St. Lawrence.

Working with kids also makes me happy. My First-Year Program had a community-based learning requirement, and my friend and I were placed in a 5th grade classroom. I don’t care how much you think you love working with kids, if you haven’t had much teaching experience, walking into a room and having 35 10-year-old faces looking up at you can be pretty intimidating. Fortunately, we made it through the introductory phase and were quickly accepted by the class. We worked with a few groups of mostly male students who, due to the nature of the education field, I’m sure were not previously exposed to many male teachers. We helped them with math facts, or multiplication tables, as they are commonly known. Over the course of a couple of months we saw their improvement from the small group work and it was incredibly rewarding. I’m certain that it was just the students’ natural progression and that they probably would have gotten just as good at their math facts with just a few more weeks of practice, but the thought that I played even the smallest role in their success was rewarding enough for me.

My civic engagement credentials do not compare to some of my peers at St. Lawrence, who clearly figured out and started carrying out what I now know to be our true purpose as humans much sooner than I did. However, I am so glad that I now realize the importance of service and the importance it has not only in my own happiness, but also, the importance it has in the success of the community around me.

I was feeling rather ungrateful the other day when my friend Kyle, who co-founded the Canton Central School’s 5th Grade Multiplication Table Club with me, reminded me of a quote from one of our favorite kids.

“If I had a choice between being here and not being here, I would be here.”

I have learned a lot during my four years here at St. Lawrence; many tools and skills that I will continue to utilize for the rest of my life. One of the things I will be most proud of, though, when I look back on my time here, is that I had a positive impact on a group of 5th graders. However small that impact may have been, it was important enough for them to be happy to know us; and that makes me happy.