Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Proud Father

My daughter, who will graduated by OSU tomorrow in International Studies, gave this talk today at the reception for the students majoring in IS.

I am not only immensely proud of her, I believe she, and her theme, illustrate the thrust of this blog: "If you're going to pursue truth, you have to be prepared to change your mind."

When I was young, every morning as I left the house my dad would say to me, “Be good! Learn a lot! And make the world a better place!”

Oh dad. Did you realize how much I would take that to heart?

I’m basically every parents [sic - she should know that is a possessive ] dream child- I came to college with no idea what I wanted to do, kicked around a million ideas, cried, whined, stressed my parents out and finally decided on an intangible liberal arts degree so that I could save the world by living in Africa.

Like I said - A parents dream come true.

But really, my parents have always been so supportive of me becoming who I am and doing what I love- even if that didn’t mean becoming a lawyer or making it big in the medical world and instead majoring in International Development with minors in Religious studies and women’s studies…

I actually got involved with International development issues after watching a very compelling documentary called “invisible Children”. It focused on the longest running war in Uganda Africa and the rebel army that was terrorizing the region, particularly by abducting children from their homes and forcing them to fight. My heart was immediately captured by this story, and I began to learn more about the Invisible Children organization. As I learned more and more about the situation, I settled on International Studies with a focus on Development as my major. I wasn’t particularly sure where this would lead me in my life, but I definitely knew that I wanted to save the world and I definitely knew that probably meant I should start in Africa.

I decided, at a ripe young age of 18, that there was no better time than the present. I googled my little heart out, looking for organizations to volunteer with and found one that looked pretty legit- Cross Cultural Solutions. I signed up with a friend, and despite mom’s terror as the day approached, I was eager to go abroad and experience this world saving thing first hand.

The first night of my arrival in Ghana was an interesting one. Our driver, Richie, corralled my friend and I into an old van with about 4 other Americans, or “yevus” as the ghanains say, and we set off on our 2 hour trek to the homebase we were staying at. About an hour into the trip, he pulled off to the side of the road for some reason, or maybe for no reason at all, you never really know in the developing world. My new found friends and I decided to explore and be extremely daring - by looking for a bathroom. We went first to a small lit up building that ended up being a bar and had no luck. We tracked down Richie and somehow communicated to him that we needed to go to the bathroom. It was pitch black outside and as we walked I just followed the sound of Richie’s voice. Seconds later, my entire body was burning and I quickly realized that I had walked into a 6 foot deep cement ditch. I only really remember yelling “im ok!” and my friends reaching into the hole and pulling me out. I was terrified. There I was, in Africa, falling in holes and bleeding all over the place, which is not advised by many before your first trip to the developing world. My face was pretty beat up and I had quite a few scrapes, but I made it to the home base. After some confusion about whether or not I would call my parents (who probably would have immediately boarded a plane and flown to Ghana) the program leaders bandaged me up and off I went.

My first night in Ghana was horrifying. My mother, who I adore greatly, has instilled in me a healthy dose of paranoia, so I stayed up late worrying about a concussion and diseases infecting my body. Let’s just say I didn’t get much sleep that night.

Fast forward through the rest of my college years. I spent 9 months interning with Invisible Children, the non profit I mentioned earlier, living in a van and traveling the country. I spent many nights on the floors of the kindest strangers turned friends you’ll ever meet and watched as high school and college kids raised over a million dollars in 100 days for schools in Uganda. I spent 2 summers in Alabama working at a summer camp and developing an authentic southern accent and learning all about how kids, no matter how big or small, get it. They get that life is good and real and fun and sometimes it takes lying in the grass and chasing lightning bugs to learn it. I studied abroad in the Dominican Republic and attempted Spanish (and failed miserably), met friends I will have for the rest of my life and got to know many Dominicans who I will never forget. I learned to merengue and learned to live on Caribbean time and realized that love and humanity knows no language barrier, even when it’s me whose speaking the awful Spanish.

And I spent months here, at Ohio State. I studied under so many wonderful professors in this department and others. I learned about food security and development strategies and economics and microfinance and the institutions of development. I argued about genetically modified crops and national security and whether or not its “third world” or “developing world” or what.

Mostly I learned that passion runs deep. Mostly I learned that the people I was learning from were the people that were making a difference.

And when I got overwhelmed and didn’t know where to turn or how to make this GEC count for that or how to squeeze in Poli Sci 541 or another economics course, there was Karlene to work her magic. I can’t tell you how many times Karlene took me into her office at the end of a day of so many demanding students, fed me a coke zero and told me to calm down and stop worrying so much about B pluses and whether or not I was being perfect enough. She would type up a storm, print off a degree audit, add up all the credit hours and within 5 minutes have about 10 different ways I could graduate with 390 different focuses and minors. She would then run me out to the front of the office, hand me 22 fliers about what I could do after I graduated and off I would go, knowing that I could conquer the world as long as I had Karlene Foster on my side.

It was these many experiences in college that really led me to where I am today- it was the people, the places, the love that I experienced as I traveled – and occasionally stayed put- that really had the greatest effects on me.

In my life, International Studies wasn’t just a major but truly a way to learn about the world. After my quite unsuccessful interaction with economics (Claudio Gonzales Vega, you are a phenomenal professor, but I still don’t really get it) and the realization I don’t necessarily want to do development work I had to examine my choice of majors. With that examination I realized that this was the perfect major for me, regardless of whether or not I do development work.

After I fell in the hole in Africa, I spent 3 amazing weeks working with kids in Ghana. The people in the program took incredible care of me and didn’t let me fall in any more holes. I quickly learned the true humanity of those people that I was spending my time with. I learned that bleeding in Africa is really no different than bleeding anywhere else in the world. I learned that the kids in Ghana are just like the kids here. I learned that people everywhere have a whole lot to offer. But most importantly I learned that I could not, in fact, save the world.

Those lessons come full circle. My Ohio State education leaves me well equipped to take on this big scary world, despite the economy.

Next year I am going to be working with Americorps. Americorps is a service organization that places people in a large variety of positions, from tutoring disadvantaged youth to building affordable housing to providing disaster response. Americorps VISTA is a program within Americorps. I will spend one year working at Birmingham Southern College in the Bunting Center, their service learning center. We will help get students involved with community service, work with professors to implement service learning in their classrooms and build sustainable partnerships with local nonprofits. I will be dirt poor butttt I get benefits and a nice education award at the end of the year.

That dreaded question of “What are you doing after you graduate” is only dreaded if we, as college kids, limit our possibilities. Americorps isn’t necessarily a development program. BUT it is a chance to implement all of the things I learned during my college years. In between all of the truly valuable information about integrated economies and democracy structures I learned about people. I learned about what the world really looks like. I learned how to care and have compassion and – most importantly – I learned that I don’t even want to save the world, just change it alongside the many other wonderful people who are also striving to do so. Americorps is a phenomenal opportunity for me to do just that. There are so many opportunities out there for us to use our education. We just have to be willing to try it out! Live and let live.

So, my friends, as my dad always said, Be Good! Learn a lot! And make the world a better place!

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