Magazine On-line [summer 2010]
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Alumni Profiles

Alumna goes to great lengths to find her purpose

Anne Arnold-Ratcliff ’03 felt unsettled about what she was doing with her life. She has a husband she loves and a great family, but for some reason she couldn’t shake a feeling that she could be doing more. When she was younger, she wanted to be an actress, and even today she likes to surf the Internet for videos of Oscar and Tony acceptance speeches.

Last July she watched Tom Hanks’ speech after winning the Oscar for Forrest Gump, which prompted her to watch the movie. In it, the lead character runs across America, and that idea inspired Arnold-Ratcliff to embark on a journey of her own, but with a twist. She would serve at a charitable organization in each of the 48 continental states.

“It was literally like an epiphany,” she said. “My grandmother always used to say, ‘The minute you start feeling sorry for yourself, it’s your responsibility to help someone else.’ I said, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’”

So Arnold-Ratcliff began plans for the trip, which she is calling 48 States of Purpose. She set up a website,, and began blogging about her adventure. As of the end of June, she had been to 40 states, working at a feral cat rescue, a blood donation center, an organization that makes ribbons for families of homicide victims, and several others. She even volunteered in the ninth ward of New Orleans building houses for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“It was amazing,” she said of her New Orleans visit. “Just the subtle hope that surfaces in every single conversation you have is amazing, even when it’s five years later and not much work has been done. It’s incredibly hopeful and sad and breathtaking all at one time.”

Through the journey, Arnold-Ratcliff is spending a lot of time learning about helping people and about herself and what she wants to do with her own life.

“I’m learning a little bit more about me every single day and the people I’m around and the way that you act and the kindness that you should show and the generosity that you should share with other people,” she said. “When you are sitting next to a child who is 6 years old, and he is going through dialysis and creating masterful works of sand art, you can’t help but put your worries and concerns aside and realize that the position you are in is so much better than so many people in this world that are really, really good people.”

Arnold-Ratcliff will be completing her 48 States of Purpose through the rest of 2010. To read about her travels, visit her website.

Ann arnold-ratcliff
Anne Arnold-Ratcliff worked in the ninth ward in New Orleans helping rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. She is doing service work in all 48 contiguous states as a part of her 48 States of Purpose journey.

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