This year has been undoubtedly unpredictable and oddly fulfilling. Though large parts of it was occupied by thought-provoking courses, challenging research projects, and spontaneous travels, I am also extremely honoured this year to have been nominated for a number of awards. However, the purpose of this letter is not to brag nor to tell the world about my achievements, but rather is a reminder both to myself and to everyone reading this that behind these awards stand teams of people – family, friends, cheerleaders, mentors, project partners, colleagues, supervisors and many others. Throughout my journey, these people have stood, albeit invisibly, beside me in every award ceremony, plaque, and smile and it is these same individuals who continue to cheer me on even when I am too stubborn to admit my own flaws.
To the parents and siblings who have the privilege of being related to out-of-the-box, unapologetically idiosyncratic, unrealistic dream-chasers, thank you for not judging and imposing what you believe is ‘the way’ to succeed in life but for allowing mistakes, laughing off missed family dinners, and not allowing your high-achieving children to simply ‘skip’ their own birthdays to fit in a few more hours of studying. To say the least, my family has kept me grounded through the tears of first year and listened to my long-winded plans on new project pursuits that were then nothing more than fanciful ideas held together by their dash of encouragement. While I am beyond thankful to my family for their years of support, it is always an unexpected gift to have someone unrelated to you choose consciously to invest in your life as a young person; though I may not have yet had the chance to, it is these people that I want to thank the most.
To the mentors, supervisors, and friends who have gone through a few more years of life than I have, thank you for remembering to look back often enough to walk with someone through a similar journey. Thank you for spending hours over the phone going over scholarship applications or insisting to pay for our meals, joking that I can “treat you back when I start working”. All kidding aside, I am grateful that despite the busyness of your own lives, you constantly make it a priority to impart upon me the wisdom and knowledge only attainable by having gone through the process I am about to embark on myself. Thank you for making me laugh with funny anecdotal stories and for not sparing me from the gruesome realities of your careers that have in fact become crucial puzzle pieces in my own decision-making process. During times of uncertainty, it was you who gently nudged me forward with words of encouragement – reminding me of who I am and what I stand for and that these values added together are good enough. Thank you for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself, for listening when I had five hundred reasons why I won’t succeed, and for offering advice that I didn’t want, but often needed, to hear. In the words of one of my favourite writers, Tim Keller sums these moments up best when he states that “the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person [is] having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping and then with a breath of kindness blow the rest away”. Though I am quite sure this quote came out of a book on marriage, I think it accurately applies to all relationships and ours are no exception.
No matter who you are and whether you realise it, someone is looking up to you. Some of you may not have had many opportunities to interact with me personally and are reading this letter wondering how these words of thanks might apply. Yet even from a distance, it is the way you choose to live your life – daring to venture beyond the confines of your upbringing, standing in solidarity with the marginalized, and raising a voice for issues and people that matter to you that has given me courage to do the same. You live life with integrity, hold to a higher standard, and push back against the pressures this world places on us to conform to social norms. It is because of your investment that I will one day be able to do for others what you have done for me. As I mentioned in my recent interview with WE Day, you are one of the biggest reasons why I am adamant about youth empowerment. I have been on the receiving end of these kind acts more times than I can count, and I believe every young person deserves to be surrounded by people who believe in them—not only in the person they have the potential to become, but in who they are in the present.
You help me remember that while it is easy, and almost natural, to allow society to convince us that our successes are due to the things we have accomplished, the effort we put in, the late nights, sweat, and tears - we should never forget that our successes are not so much our own as they are shared by the collective of unsung heroes we have met along the way.
So thank you, to each one of you, a million times over.