Student volunteerism is an important part of the process of maturing into adulthood, where the responsibilities of daily living carry a far greater weight than does the experience of childhood. This is not meant to minimize the struggles of many youth, financially, socially, culturally, and biologically, as the emotional burden of childhood can be enormous, illustrated by the disturbingly high rates of substance abuse and suicide among teenagers. It is, however, intended to emphasize the importance of empathy and civil engagement at an early age so that future adults develop a greater sense of the world beyond the classroom walls. Through volunteerism, students observe first-hand the realities of social environments that might otherwise remain alien and distant. By interacting through such activities, whether donating time at social services agencies, at community centers that cater to the elderly or to disadvantaged children, or participating in efforts oriented towards environmental restoration, students attain valuable skills and experiences while improving their communities.
A speech devoted to student volunteerism should emphasize the benefits of such activities to both the emotional development of the students and to the part of society to which they are devoting their time and energy. One catch, however, involves the notion of compulsory volunteerism, a contradictory concept that nevertheless exists. Students who engage in volunteer activities solely because it is a requirement of an academic program are more likely to resent their participation. Ideally, individual students can be matched with a worthy activity that is consistent with their personal and academic interests. That is not always possible, however, as many academic fields do not allow for a natural correlation within the realm of volunteerism. Volunteerism should not be confused with unpaid internships, which are intended to expose students to the fields in which they hope to work upon graduation. Volunteer activities, by their nature, should extricate students from their insulated environment and expose them to the trials and tribulations of those less fortunate, or immerse them in socially or environmentally beneficial exercises.
The number of hours dedicated to volunteer activities, however, is a different matter. Students, by definition, have courses to attend, assignments, including research projects, potentially hundreds of pages of reading per week, possibly labs and/or extracurricular activities that are an integral part of the student experience (this is, obviously, specific to college students rather than high school students). Expecting a level of dedication to volunteer activities that exceeds a certain number of hours per semester, for example, the 40 hours specified in the question, may be unrealistic. If the assignment requires a defense of a minimum of 40 hours, however, than the argument can be made that a higher number of hours devoted to volunteer activities is essential both to ensure a higher level of productivity on the part of the student and to better benefit the organization to which the student has agreed to volunteer. The equivalent amount of time to one full work week is not enough to accomplish much of substance, especially when that time is spread out over the duration of a semester. On the other hand, if the activity in question involves visiting with an elderly “shut-in,” then 40 hours constitutes a substantial commitment of time. In most instances, however, a 40-plus hour commitment is entirely realistic when spread out over the three-plus months that constitute a college semester, and would represent a more concrete commitment to whatever cause the individual student selects. Two to three hours per week is a reasonable commitment of time for many students, and does represent the minimum amount of time necessary to make the effort worthwhile.