After graduating from Mountain Vista High School in 2011, Grant Hamilton didn’t feel he was quite ready for a four-year university.
What he was ready for, though, was an opportunity to make the world a better place.
So Hamilton, who had invested one year at Arapahoe Community College, decided to put his studies on hold and sign up with the Denver-based nonprofit Up With People, in attempt to “help bring the world together through community service and music.”
Along with 99 other volunteers, representing 20 countries, he spent the last six months traveling through Massachusetts, Taiwan, the Philippines and Mexico, completing close to 200 hours of community service and singing in 85 shows.
The journey provided Hamilton with the opportunity to visit places he says he otherwise never would have seen, along with a huge dose of humility.
“You really learn not to take anything for granted,” he said, “just appreciate what you have and be content. There’s always somebody out there who is worse off, but they could be the happiest person in the world. You have to realize that no matter how bad it gets, it could always be worse.”
When he wasn’t performing community service or the group’s 13-song musical “Voices,” Hamilton, like his fellow travelers, spent time with his host families, learning the lay of the land in a way that only locals saw it.
“It was really eye-opening,” he said. “One week you’d be staying with someone super-wealthy and the next you’d be staying on a mat. … Honestly, the poor families are the ones you’ll remember the most, because they will give you everything they have.”
A witness to extreme wealth and crippling poverty, Hamilton experienced what it was like not to have clean drinking water, electricity or plumbing. He went into schools and talked about anti-bullying, spent time with abused and neglected orphans in Third World countries, performed manual labor, and on stage performed songs filled with positive messages in multiple languages.
“You get to a point where the people you are helping are helping you more than you are helping them,” he said. “I learned something new everywhere I went.”
He was so moved, in fact, that he leaves Jan. 10 for another six months. This time, he will head south to Georgia and Florida, before spending eight weeks in Europe, four weeks in Mexico and two weeks in Cuba. In addition to performing another 80-plus shows, he expects to do more manual labor, volunteer in senior centers, nursing homes, and schools, and help organize food pantries. Once he gets back in June, he will take some time off, and then plans to pursue a degree in political science.
“I’ve always wanted to do something with politics,” he said. “I really just want to better the world and it gives me something where I know I can try to help do that.”
Of course, if Up With People offers him a permanent staff position, he may put his studies on hold for just a little bit longer, he said, adding that the past six months have allowed him to grow more than he even thought possible.
Up With People is open to international applicants between the ages of 17 and 29. For more information, visit www.upwithpeople.org.
“If you aren’t sure if want to go to college, it’s a great opportunity,” Hamilton said. “You may learn more in one year of traveling than you ever would in four years of college. There are definitely things out there that you can’t learn from a book or a professor that you just have to experience. Plus, it looks good on a resume.”