Liz Leman (’11) update

“I think that was something that a lot of us took away from Periclean – our own ability to be humbled by those we “served,” to learn far more than we gave.”


Hi friends!

Liz Leman here, Class of 2011 (Sri Lanka). I’ve been away from Elon for two years now – hard to believe! However, of all my college experiences, the one that’s probably been the most consistently relevant to my post-Elon life has been Periclean.

Some background: since graduating, I’ve served two years with AmeriCorps. The first was with an Emergency Response Team in St Louis, Missouri where I learned skills I never thought I’d even come near – wildland firefighting, using a chainsaw, building fences, responding to natural disasters, and more. The second (and current) position is as a VISTA for the Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project in Helena, Montana. Basically, I do tech support for civil legal aid organizations, trying to increase their utilization of available technology so that they in turn can better reach and serve their clients. Different as they have been, both terms have given me some great, unforgettable experiences.

DSC_0016Part of the reason, I think, that I have gotten so much out of my terms with AmeriCorps is the foundation I built with Periclean. I don’t work with global partners, or fundraise, or do very much else typically Periclean, but a few of the overarching lessons that have stuck with me from my Periclean days have been invaluable.

First, Periclean was the first time that I’d really made a long-term investment in a specific service project. I’d done a lot of volunteer work before, but it was always fragmented and temporary: show up here and hammer some nails, play with some kids, pick up some trash. Then go home and never find out what happened with the park you cleaned up or the home you built.

Periclean, on the other hand, emphasized sustainability and a long-term partnership. This turns out to be a great entree into AmeriCorps’ intensive, year-long commitments. Both allow for you to really invest yourself in the project, to have a stake in its success. You get to know the ins and outs, the ups and downs of working to improve a particular thing in a meaningful way. You make lasting connections with like-minded people, and (in my experience, at least!) get to travel to some amazing new places. The service project becomes a part of your story.

Second, through Periclean I became comfortable with the idea that the best service is not entirely selfless. There’s this wacky idea out there that the recipient of service doesn’t have anything to give, that the one giving service is there because they already know what needs to happen in order to improve a given situation. I think that was something that a lot of us took away from Periclean – our own ability to be humbled by those we “served,” to learn far more than we gave.

This is something that has certainly held true for my AmeriCorps experiences. As I mentioned above, I learned a lot of incredible things in St Louis that I’ll have for the rest of my life, and the same goes for Helena, though of a different variety (coding, video editing, and knowledge on a variety of tech-related topics). In return, it can be hard to see that I as an individual contributed much to the project.

That’s the third thing that I think Periclean prepared me for: indirect service. Working with faraway partners for the benefit of kids we’d never met at schools we’d never seen was challenging. There was no direct, immediate payoff at the end of the day; it wasn’t as quickly tangible as picking up trash or building a house.

This experience has been helpful for me especially this past year. I spend a lot of my time researching and writing on tech topics, sending them off into the void of the Internet, and can often feel like I’m not really helping anyone. Having the experience of building slowly to a goal over time, of building capacity so that others can finish what I’ve started, has been invaluable in keeping the faith in my project. It requires a different set of motivations from a one-time and immediately tangible service project, and for developing that mindset I have Periclean to thank.

It’s true that Periclean has been especially relevant to my life because I’m an AmeriCorps volunteer, but I don’t really see it becoming less relevant as I move into grad school and a career. The lessons I learned are pretty broadly applicable to a lot of life and translate pretty easily (I think) into the professional world.

Thanks to everyone who made my Periclean experience at Elon so memorable and meaningful – best of luck to all of you recent grads and those who’ve been out for a few years as well. You’ll do great things!


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One Comment

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