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Kindness Goes Viral

Hillary Sadlon’s 22 acts of giving galvanized the Seton Hall community into action.

Hillary Sadlon is vice president of the campus Student Nurses Association. She volunteers in the emergency department at St. Luke’s Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg, N.J. She is a Sunday school teacher at her hometown church.

But it wasn’t until Sadlon paid a stranger’s toll one summer morning that Katie Couric came calling.

kindnessgoesviralAt 8 a.m. on July 23, 2013 — her 22nd birthday — Sadlon set out from her home in Belvidere, N.J., on a mission to complete 22 “random acts of kindness,” inspired by an idea she had seen in a Pinterest post. Accompanied by her boyfriend, Evan Reed, and a longtime friend, Meghan Cox, Sadlon brought flowers to bank tellers, doughnuts to police officers, and balloons for kids in an elementary school special education class. She donated blood and helped a couple load their car with groceries. She paid tolls for four strangers driving behind her at the state border crossing.

She returned home nearly 10 hours later, having completed all 22 items on her list.

“It was a crazy ride, but it was so exciting; one act of kindness led to the energy of another,” Sadlon recalls. “Every time I approached someone, I told them my name and what I was doing, and they immediately got a smile on their face. Everyone’s reaction was the best reaction I could ever ask for.”

After that memorable day, Sadlon went back to her usual routine. But when she returned to campus in the fall, she found that her kindness project hadn’t ended with the completion of that final task. An article in The Setonian about the day led to coverage in The Star-Ledger, the Huffington Post, and “Good Morning America;” USA Today named her one of 2013’s five “most inspiring college students.” She appeared on “The Rachael Ray Show” and on Couric’s talk show, “Katie.”

“The next thing I want to do is, during the holidays, take 12 days out of December and do a kind act one time a day,” Sadlon told Couric.

She was not alone: This winter, the entire University community joined her.

At the tree-lighting ceremony on the University Green in December, Sadlon joined President A. Gabriel Esteban in introducing a campus-wide “12 Acts of Christmas Kindness” campaign. Within days, thousands had visited the campaign’s website, with hundreds pledging via Twitter and Facebook to complete acts of kindness of their own.

Christine Cantine, a senior, was motivated to renew her commitment to service. A social work and theology major, Cantine has been active in Division of Volunteer Efforts (DOVE) programs since her freshman year. But at the end of a busy semester, she realized she missed her time at Saint John’s Soup Kitchen in Newark, where she had long been a regular volunteer. She pledged to return to the kitchen over her Christmas break.

“College can be a selfish time, because it’s so much about your grades and your involvement on campus, but Seton Hall has given me a passion for service,” she said. “Even if it’s just one small thing, acknowledging that you have helped somebody can lead you to something bigger in the future.”

Though the campaign has ended, Sadlon’s inspiration continues to resonate beyond campus.

Sheena Collum ’06, a member of the South Orange Board of Trustees, was among those who joined the Christmas campaign; she brought groceries to a housebound neighbor and donated to the Red Cross. She also encouraged colleagues and community members to take the pledge, and in January, the Board of Trustees honored Sadlon with a proclamation “recognizing her achievements in spreading the holiday spirit and inspiring so many others to do the same,” Collum wrote in an email.

“Hillary embodies the type of servant leadership from the University that we’re so proud to have in South Orange.”

Sadlon still seems overwhelmed by all of the attention, but she has taken it in stride, speaking to interviewers about the joys of helping others and using her new public platform to educate listeners about the need to donate blood, a cause close to her heart.

“Seton Hall wants its students to become leaders, and I think that’s helped me take the reins,” she said. “I think that people often don’t have the confidence to do something to make a difference, because they think they have to do something huge — and I was like that, too. That’s why I keep doing interviews and talking about this: The more people we reach, the more people we can inspire.”

Tricia Brick is a New York-area writer.

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