Amber’s Student Volunteer Essay

No history textbook could possibly illuminate times gone by as vividly as can the people who actually lived through them. Try as they might, the vignettes and primary sources thoughtfully placed throughout my American history book will never carry the same emotional impact as do the words spoken directly from the mouths of those who struggled to make ends meet during the Great Depression, or who sill feel reverberations of post-traumatic stress from World War II. I have heard tales of the past century from those who lived it in privilege and in poverty, whose reflections range from joyous recollections to confessions tainted with regret, but all tell their life story with a common purpose: to share their wisdom and their love with the people they know they will be leaving behind. When I perform tapings with LifeChronicles, a non-profit organization devoted to creating video keepsakes for families of the elderly and terminally ill, it is my job to capture these precious testimonies on film. I sit behind the camera, gently adjusting the focus so that all of the face’s etchings are made visible, carefully zooming in to catch the endearing physical mannerisms that might otherwise fade from memory. Frame by frame, I capture the story of a woman who grew up in the Midwest during the dust bowl, or a man who left his home country to escape poverty but I also capture something less tangible. In telling their stories, these brave individuals are imparting to the next generation wisdom gained from a lifetime of experience. While at the surface it may seem that I am the one serving them, I genuinely feel that I am the one who gains the most from these unique interchanges. Each person has spent a lifetime forming their values and creating some semblance of meaning for his or her life, and sitting before the camera, their eyes light up as they reveal the secrets life discloses with age. The folks I film have watched thousands of fads come and go, have seen technology evolve into the all-encompassing force that it is today, and have witnessed our world’s shifting values while attempting to hang onto their own. Their insights have passed the test of time, and after each taping I question my own values formed over the course of a mere eighteen years of life. Sixty years from today, what will still matter to me? When I am eighty years old, I want to be able to tell a story that I am proud of, rich with experiences, accomplishments, passion, and love. I want to be able to say that I lived my life to the fullest. And I know I will have been successful if, in whatever form technology takes by that point, the student intern that records my story comes away from it with a similar desire.