9/11 Grads Choose Public Service

Wilene Justilien 9/11 generation

As a Harvard senior, Michael Kalin could have gone for a big money job on Wall Street, but he's going to a different part of New York.

Kalin has decided to teach in the New York City public school system.

A top-college graduate teaching in the inner-city?

As CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews

, it's not as unusual as you might think.

Wilene Justilien put off law school to teach high school French in inner-city Washington, D.C. Down the hall, math teacher Priya Sehgal delayed medical school. It's all part of a surprising trend: a nationwide rush to public service.

Justilien says she decided to teach because, "I truly, truly, truly saw the need for more people like me to be in the classroom."

She says she wanted to make an immediate one-on-one impact.

"If we are truly going to affect change in our country, it has to start at the bottom," she says. "It has to start with our young ones."

Kalin agrees.

Asked what he most wants to do, Kalin says, "work with students in a personal way - for some students who may have already given up or just don't think they can succeed in school."

They all got their jobs through Teach for America, a program now so competitive that applications were up 40 percent this year. More than 120 Harvard seniors applied. So did 12 percent of Yale's graduating class.

And Teach for America isn't the only public service program drawing huge numbers of recent college graduates. Interest in non-profit careers generally has more than doubled. Applications for the Peace Corps are up 80 percent.

After 30 years of "me first," why the return to public service?

Harvard Professor Robert Putnam points out today's seniors were freshman on Sept. 11, 2001, a day Americans learned to depend on each other.

"I think we may eventually call this the 9/11 generation," says Putnam. "It reinforced a sense of obligation to a cause greater than oneself.

"In terms of civic engagement, it could be a really new day."

"This is our present day civil rights movement," says Justilien. "Youth and the advancement of youth."

If there is a 9/11 generation, Justilien might define it: a generation that wants to improve the lives of others and is driven to succeed at that right now.