Today at the Points of Light Institute’s Presidential Forum on Service in College Station, Texas, both President Obama and President George H.W. Bush will join together to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the vision of a thousand “Points of Light.” I have the privilege of participating in a panel dialogue about the future of service at the event, just prior to the Presidents’ remarks. It seems only fitting that as we look back, we look forward. I feel both honored and humbled to have the opportunity today to share the same stage with two Presidents, but mostly I feel deeply moved to know that a commitment to service in the nation by our leaders is as alive as its ever been, and indeed, maybe more so.

You may recall back to 1988, when then Vice President George H.W. Bush said in his acceptance speech for the nomination of the Presidency:

“We are a nation of communities, of thousands and tens of thousands of ethnic, religious, social, business, labor union, neighborhood, regional, and other organizations, all of them varied, voluntary, and unique … a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.”

These poetic and inspirational words led President George H.W. Bush to establish the Points of Light Foundation in 1990 (a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization to engage more people and more resources effectively in volunteer service to help solve serious social problems) and inspired a massive community and national service movement that has been growing ever since. As we mark this momentous celebration, we honor the enormous advances the service movement has seen over the last 20 years beginning with the leadership of President George H. W. Bush and continuing under the leadership of Presidents William J. Clinton, George W. Bush and now President Barack Obama.

The past 20 years have seen great progress for the volunteer sector, but we still have a long way to go to ensure that every citizen has a role and sense of responsibility in making his community and nation strong. As we look across the landscape we see bright spots that bring us great hope:

  • We have a private sector making it a priority to give of their time and professional skills to help nonprofits strengthen their scale and sustainability.
  • Our students in high school and in college are demanding new opportunities to give back, and when they don’t have opportunities in place – they are creating their own.
  • There is now a White House Office of Social Innovation and a new cadre of social entrepreneurs in the private sector representing a “reimagining” of what’s possible and creating new solutions that will tackle old problems.
  • A new generation of technology solutions are enabling smarter, better ways to enable civic engagement and better connections between citizens and their government and civic institutions.

The obstacles and divides that we face as a nation can seem daunting at times, but today, as leaders of the free world leave partisan differences behind to come together in celebration of our highest ideals as a nation — the power of individual citizens to use their time, talent, networks and imagination to solve problems, drive change and create impact in our nation and around the world — let’s recommit ourselves to rolling up our sleeves, linking arms and making a difference together.