On June 23rd, I graduated from THINK Global School. As Class Speaker, I addressed the audience of teachers, friends and family. It was truly one of the happiest nights of my life - a perfect way to end a massively enriching four years and to be launched into the real world with love.
Good evening everyone. My wonderful peers here on stage have given me the honor of talking to you a little bit about these past four years and what they've meant for me.
During the summer of 2011, I packed my bags, did my summer reading and said goodbye to my friends and family — some still did not understand what I was doing and why. I left for different reasons than I came. I left because I felt lost in a crowd, like I was about to burst with so much to say but without the voice to say them. I came because I had an inkling of hope that I might find great people and that here I would learn how to change the world. These were two things I craved: authentic connections and a broad, deep understanding of the world, that was unlimited by the notions both good and bad that I had been conditioned by my environment to see.
I learned that both things are not so simple and require a lot of navigation.
I learned that there is no way to be ready for the choices, the love and the learning that this school sends your way. TGS in these four years found ways to teach me and show me all of the things I wanted to learn, to know, to feel but presented them in packages unrecognizable. So that only after, only now, can I truly see the value of each lesson.
When I look back at the 14-year old girl who arrived in Quito, Ecuador in September 2011, I see now that I was standing at the brink of something unforeseeable. Something that despite my hardest attempts could not be planned or controlled. Of the few choices that I alone have made in my life, stepping forward at that point into these four years has no doubt been the best, most rewarding decision imaginable.
On the plane ride to Athens, three months ago, I wrote:
“Liisa and I once talked about the crazy arbitrariness of our community. How was it possible that she and I were able to become friends? From opposite sides of the world, with equally complicated backgrounds, how did a Korean-American and a Swedish-Estonian fly from their homes in Singapore and Gothenburg to meet in the old Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires? (That was six countries right there.)
How did we end up here? Here, watching the sunset on a beach town in Costa Rica? Here, in the cafeteria of a Hyderabadi boarding school? Here, with a balcony view of the Acropolis lit up at night? How did we end up here? Here, instead of there?”
In the past few months, we’ve talked about that a lot. About what would have happened to us if we hadn’t come here - who we would’ve been. About how close it was that we didn’t end up here in each others’ lives, as the people we are now, at all. I no longer believe that this gathering of individuals is in any way arbitrary because I cannot bring myself to believe that the way we have touched each others lives could have been random.
It’s hard to explain what my years at TGS have meant to me. I am sure I will be thinking about this for a long time to come. I guess the only way to say it is that I grew up here. This experience digs so deeply into us as teenagers and as travelers. Here is where we learn what kind of power the warmth and support of a small community can hold. All of the fears that we held in our shadows, here is where we turn around and face them. Here is where we live with our closest friends, whose smiles we know by heart, whose faces we can see when we close our eyes.
One of my favorite moments in "Dead Poets Society" is when Robin Williams’ character, John Keating gets up on his teachers’ desk in front of his students and says, “You see, the world looks very different from up here.” And it does. The world looks different from the time you start TGS to the moment you leave it.
With every change at TGS, we see that the world looks very different for every person at any time from any place. We learn that no worldview is the same, none is more correct or invalid. I hope this is something we never lose sight of - that the world is how we see it and also that everyone sees it differently.
Our last night altogether in our house in Glyfada, not too far from here, we sat in a circle. In that moment, looking at the faces I’ve known the most these years, the people who have become among the most important in my life, I felt full and complete and yet utterly petrified that the moment someone stood up to leave the circle, I could not push this reality away any longer. It’s the reality that we will never be the way we’ve been. That this circle will only exist intact in our memories. That this home that we’ve built here ceases to exist the way we know it, the moment that we graduate. There’s a beauty to it, but it’s also so scary.
It’s scary because whenever we need it, there is no childhood bedroom to return to to reconnect with the memories and the lessons of our high school years. That bedroom has changed more times than I can count. With the alumni here, I wonder how strange it must feel to return to this home to find it full of strangers. What TGS has taught us, I suppose, is to carry that home inside of ourselves.
What I know with absolute certainty is that these four years have been filled with a love that only a home can provide. It’s not easy to be a teenager or a high schooler or a traveler. But somehow the combination of the three creates people like these.
I am so proud of this community - I struggled in writing this speech. I didn’t know where to start so I started everywhere but I always came back to people. To the human family. Here at TGS, I have learned the importance of this human family. I have seen what happens when you have teachers who listen as much as they speak, kids who come here seeking a great purpose, and the same spirit for depth in thought, in friendships and in openness to the unfamiliar. What you get are individuals who reflect deeply on why they see the world the way they do, how they want to see the world and how they wish the world to be. You get a community that does not reject change in each other but instead embraces that growth. You get a family.
At TGS, we surprise our teachers, our families, our friends back home and here, but most of all, we surprise ourselves. It has been an honor to be a part of this community. It was truly given me so much.
I would like to extend a massive thank you to the off site staff and admin, Jo, Ashley, Laura, Jamie, Mike, Jeff, Lee, Heather, Lily, Melanie - the names behind the emails; the on-site staff both in Student Life, logistics, and in academic life - you give us so much balance and guidance that I see you and value you as friends; to the parents here who have the strength and openness in their own minds to send their kids to an unknown place for them to return happier, sadder, older just to watch them go once again and to support them in these dreams - you’re not as common a breed as you might think; and last to the students. You make this experience what it is, for others, for yourself. I have so much respect and love for all of you. You have made the greatest difference in my life. In every Village Hall, classroom debate, the incredible Symposium a few days ago, I am reminded again and again and humbled to be surrounded by thoughtful, creative and smart individuals like you. Thank you for filling these four years of my life with strength, love, hugs, laughter, encouragement and utter happiness.
Class of 2015 - hey! From here, we will go in all different directions. What we will hold on to is this awareness of love, of our own strengths and weaknesses, of the danger of apathy, of the need for passion, energy and above all, hope.
As Lindsay reminded us on our senior trip, the best is yet to come. ♦