One of the few pleasures of growing older rolls around this time of year, when those of us past our prime get to feel a smug superiority over all the young college students who are on spring break - that annual bacchanal of debauchery, sloth and as many other moral failings as can be squeezed into a week in Florida.

So it is with mixed feelings that we report that not all college students spend their break wallowing in self-indulgence. Some of them, in fact, are spending it in service, helping residents of the Jersey shore recover from the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy.

It's part of something called Alternative Spring Break, a growing movement in which some students choose to spend their week without classes giving back or paying forward or whatever the young and hip call charitable works these days.

There are a variety of programs. Some students from Boston University's law school came down to Newark this month to help out service organizations. Students from New Jersey colleges have spent part of their week off cleaning up cemetery grounds or making Meals on Wheels deliveries.

Since Sandy struck in 2012, projects to help shore communities strengthen and rebuild have become popular Alternative Spring Break activities. Earlier this month, students from the New Jersey Institute of Technology were out on cold beaches in Sea Bright, setting up fencing and planting dune grass.

As he worked on the windy beach, Nick Wujek, a 23-year-old architecture major from Bloomfield, told The Star-Ledger he was thinking about his friends who were in sunnier places. "I'm a little jealous, but not really," he said. "Other people can say they went to Florida. But I can say I'm helping other people's lives."

You know what this means, of course. It means that popular ideas about the moral fiber of today's college students are no more true than other stereotypes. It means that many students have a social conscience that puts their Woodstock-generation elders to shame. And it means that rather than being headed to perdition in a handbasket, the future may actually be in good hands.

We're willing to concede all that, and to congratulate these young people on daring to be different enough to make a difference for others.

But our sense of moral superiority may never recover.

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