"Dear everyone...good luck with the rest of your life"

"Dear everyone...good luck with the rest of your life"

I've never been a fan of goodbyes.  Pretty soon, I'll have to bid good-bye to my roommates, my best friends, my coworkers, my mentors, the brilliant indivduals who shared a hall with me for 10 weeks and lent me a can opener once.  They say people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  I prefer not to divide my life into chapters, but, as this summer closes, often think about what I would say to everyone who contributed meaning to this season of my life. Given that commencement day was just around the corner, I can't help but wonder how I would address all 550 TWCers if I stood at the podium.

 

To all 550+ of You:

I was just months out of high school and weeks into my freshman fall when representatives from The Washington Center paid a visit to my campus.  In almost no time, I had pledged allegiance to The washington Center.  It wasn't impulse, it was passion.

 

To my peers, my professors, my parents - it was crazy.  Surely, the epicenter of big politics and cutthroat professionals would swallow any 5'1, 18-year-old girl alive.  The Washington Center even asked time and time agan, "are you SURE you want to do this?"

 

How could I be so ready to venture into the real world when I wasn't even sure of my major?

 

Truthfully, I wasn't ready.  Easily overwhelmed and overly idealistic, big dreams were always accompanied by bg doubts.  I could get to Washington, but Washington could get to me.  What if I was the baby of the program? What if I lagged behind in experience? What if I had half the knowledge and none of the credentials?  What if, states away and all alone, I couldn't find comfort in the camaraderie with others?

 

The future is always bound by "what ifs".  But what if we didn't question so much?  What if we just did it?

 

Until The Washington Center, I had always lived by the old adage “better safe than sorry”.  I’d now like to replace that with “better successful than sorry”.  We live in a generation in which we have the luxury to take risks.  We don’t like to feel vulnerable, but, taking those risks, we discover inconceivable support, adventure, and direction. Most of us came to Washington with a concrete expectation of establishing career goals, redefining our life’s path, or perhaps solving a quarter-life crisis. But, as I leave, I leave with more questions than answers. I’m not sure of what I do want in life, but I sure have a clearer idea of what I don’t want.

Before delving into the unknown, it’s impossible to forsee what benefits await.  It is our ambition that compels us, our achievement that propels us.  It’s when those butterflies on the first-day-of-work remind you of those butterflies on the first day of kindergarten, when you remember that everyone must start somewhere.  It’s when you attend your first meeting, contribute to your first conference call, when you remember; you will gain momentum.  It’s the times when you retype 15 drafts of the same publication to satisfy your supervisor when you remember that you can go from the top to the bottom of the totem poll instantaneously, and it humbles you.  And it’s when your supervisor distributes that very publication, with your name on it, to the entire country, that you realize that success requires failure, but one success also drives another.  It’s small successes like these that set the standard in anything we do, so that we strive to make our “next time” our “best time”.

Now, 900 miles away from home, I couldn’t feel more at home.  The White House, the Capitol, the Smithsonian are all at my doorstep, and America’s front yard is my backyard.  When I see an Au Bon Pain on every corner, the Supreme Court on a Sunday stroll, the street vendor on the corner of 13th and Pennsylvania every morning without fail – I know I’m home. 

I’ve grown to embrace this city and its people, for it’s taught me just as much as any program and academic course could.  I’ve had a homeless man reject the food I offered, and ask me for money.  I’ve been charged 5 cents for more grocery bags than I would like, and I’ve forgotten the “walk left, stand right” motto on the metro so much I’m almost embarrassed to admit.  But, in a broken kind of way, these quirks enrich the city’s character.

I’ve grown to embrace how this center of Americana is in its own right a worldly experience.  Who knew that all it takes is a few weeks for a few strangers to become the best of friends?   Did you know that Midwesterners still call soda “pop”?  Or that people actually live in the Italian part of Switzerland? It’s moments when the Floridian in me explains the concept of a tropical storm to my Minnesotan roommate that I thank The Washington Center for exposing me to such diversity. Our microcosm of unique interactions captures exactly what building a better world is about; imagine if we could translate all the beautiful friendships, cross cultural exchanges, sincere “hellos” and wistful ”sayonaras” on a macro level. Look around you now - Japanese, Mexicans, Turkish, Americans, future Congressmen, artists, entrepreneurs, teachers – we are already leaders and global citizens.

So next time you want to dip your feet in the water, take a little risk, maybe dive in head first.  As sad as I am to be leaving this dynamic, cultural, and exhausting city behind, I know that the experiences we’ve shared, skills we’ve acquired, and people we’ve met will always be engrained in who we are. We, in every corner of this room, will soon be dispersed amongst every corner of the globe.  But given the impact we’ve had in the community, I cannot begin to fathom the impact we’ll have in the world.

All 500 of us came here for 500 reasons, from 500 origins, on 500 different paths to 500 different destinations.  But we navigate our 500 circumstances with a single, shared integrity to give the world the best version of ourselves.  For some of us, that involves lobbying for Veteran’s rights, so your WWII-hero of a grandfather can reap the benefits he deserves.  For others, it means combatting crime in the streets of New York, or mobilizing social change in the hometown you love.  Whatever your path may be, wherever you are, and wherever you’re going, rest assured; you’ll get there.  You cannot measure up against anyone but yourself – so navigate, live, learn, mess up, laugh about it, mess up some more, and don’t forget to enjoy.  But most importantly, replace your hesitation with motivation, and just do it.

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