May 2, 2005


Perhaps fifteen others also received a voluptuous yellow rose, long stem wrapped in crinkly cellophane, before dinner on Saturday night. Surprise honorees, a footnote to a dinner and auction and dancing, we all do something for our kids' school that other people think is worth some recognition.

I like getting thank-you's, and the yellow rose given to me by a tall, sexy, yellow-haired woman was a pleasant and night-warming surprise. Thank-you's, however, are not why people go out and give freely of their time, their talents, their money. My thing at the school is to try to keep the kids from getting run over as they cross the street. I guess since I do it more than other people, that qualifies me for a yellow rose. Many others give far more of their time and talent to the school, the children, every day. I do not know what they do or when they do it, but I know why.

Some might say it's an altruistic need to "give back." I think it's a need to be connected, to be a part of a community, to feel that you are a contributing member of something larger, to help create the American story in some small way.

In my job, I am very fortunate to meet people from America's greatest and most powerful companies, from banks to health care providers to consumer goods makers to pharmaceutical companies. The people I meet have a common role: They help their companies give away money and time and talent to make communities safer, healthier, better around the world.

When we get together, though, we talk numbers--$X million given, X million hours volunteered, X houses built, $X worth of medicine distributed--and it is easy to forget the small, simple stories of the countless thousands of Americans who deserve to feel the warm glow from a yellow rose on Saturday night for simply showing up where they are needed, and for simply participating in their community.

I didn't need the yellow rose or the extra thank-yous people said that night, but the fact that they were given is the true testament to American community, and that, to me, is an optimism that will never die.

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