When I was in sixth grade, I was picked to give a commencement speech at my graduation. I remember the excitement, the nerves, but most of all, the challenge of what to write about. How could I aptly summarize seven years of school? All the jokes, all the lessons, all the stories. I decided to share one memory that I had with each person, deciding that what had made my experience so enjoyable was the people, and what I had learned from them.
Facing the same task (our instructors asked us to write a commencement speech of our course), almost 7 years later, I realized the wisdom of that choice. Sure, my experience in Morocco was shaped by the place, the people we met, the food we ate. But more than anything, it was shaped by the experiences I shared with all of you. And from the lessons you all taught me.
I’ll start with Badr, my fellow competitor, and runner-up in the Rose Queen competition. All joking aside, I think Badr was the person I felt the first true moment of connection with. As we walked back from Volubulis, sweat pouring down our faces, we discussed our views on the role of religion. As the discussion progressed, it became increasingly clear that regardless of the fact that we practiced different religions, had had completely different life experiences, and were born thousands of miles from each other, we agreed: the purpose of religion was to better yourself. I think the main thing that I learned from Badr was how he connects with people. When you’re talking, Badr listens. If you’re wrong about something, Badr responds with patience. So from Badr, I learned the importance of patience and listening.
Similarly, from Pablo, I learned about connection, but a different type. Pablo has this way about him that makes people want to connect with him. Yes, part of that is how excited people get when he says his name, as we all know and are dumbfounded by. But part of that is his friendliness, his approachability, how quick he is to smile. That’s what I learned from Pablo.
When discussing with connecting with people, it’s impossible not to mention Kristen. But although she’s indisputably an expert, what I’ve learned most from Kristen is strength. I’m reminded of a quote from The Happiness Project, “it takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted… because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.” I think that’s incredibly true of Kristen: her constant positivity takes more strength than we could ever imagine. Only in moments of struggle do we recognize this, because the absence of Kristen’s joy is obvious in the group dynamic. So Kristen, thank you for your joy, your love, and your strength.
And how could I mention joy without mentioning Cathy! From Cathy I learned how to laugh. As I’m writing this, I just looked up and started laughing with her. Not only does Cathy know how to laugh, but her laugh is infectious. Any situation becomes ten times more joyful with Cathy around. Her laughter brings joy to others in every situation, something I admire and learn from every day.
In the same way that Cathy sees laughter in everything, Michelle sees beauty. There’s no place, no situation, no person, truly nothing that Michelle can’t find beauty in. The lesson of “looking up” that she taught us in her Yak shows this sentiment perfectly. What can’t Michelle write about beautifully? Listening to her describe a favorite perfume, her trip to Antarctica, a painting, or a song captives the listening. Her passion for beauty is breathtaking.
Michelle helped reframe my perspective to see beauty, Kevin helped reframe my perspective, and to question assumptions. I remember when I listened to his life map in Moulay Idriss being struck by two things: how similar our upbringings were, and how much he had changed since then. I was curious what had caused this change. Over time, I realized that a major part was the way he always questions assumptions. In different situations, I watched how he’d react or talk about things, and learned to question further. Kevin never accepts things without examination, a trait I admire and work to learn from. I think one of the things I’ll miss most from Morocco is a Kevin head tilt, a sure sign of a funny sarcastic comment or something that would make me think.
Next, Emma. From Emma, I learned the power up getting back up when you get knocked down. Walking to lessons with Emma in Azrou, she’d tell me about the things she struggled with in her homestay. We’d discuss and brainstorm coping strategies. But in Bougamez, it was like I was talking to a different person. She told me about all the new things she’d tried, connections she’d made, things she’d done. Emma took an experience that was hard for her and grew. That was inspiring to me.
On a similar topic of growth, from Sally I learned to challenge myself. I remember talking to Sally before trek, and me talking about how I was nervous because I’d never done anything like that before. She told me that she was excited because she had never done anything like that before. From trekking, to learning to talk to strangers, with finding her emotions (they exist!), Sally always pushes herself to work hard and do better.
From Gabe, I learned to be true to myself. Gabe is Gabe, no matter what. If Gabe likes something, you know, and if you’re getting on a bus at 3 AM and Gabe hates it, you definitely know. Gabe is never afraid to be himself, and loves it when that surprises people.
From Bau, I learned to find my inner Lucas. When planning for X-Phase, Bau would use the name “Lucas” when booking accommodations, but it became synonymous with Bau’s productivity. Although Bau is happy to sit back and go with the flow, when he needs to, he gets things done, and well. Lucas knows what he wants and gets it. The balance Bau strikes between Lucas and Bau is amazing, and one I think we could all learn from.
I want to also mention Eliza. From Eliza, I learned the importance of taking care of myself. Elize knew what would be best for herself, and prioritized that. I’m inspired by it daily.
Finally, what did I learn from myself? This question was probably the hardest to answer. I think what you all helped me learn about myself is to be who I am. Back in Moulay Idriss, when we had to set an intention for the course, mine was, “to not be afraid of being who I am and to allow myself to be happy.” With all of your help, and fueled by the adventures of this trip, I have been able to realize this goal. I think one of my biggest lessons learned from this trip was that “I can do this.” Through the ups and downs of the past three months, I have come out stronger and with a smile on my face. I think I’ve learned to trust myself, which is truly a powerful thing.
What I’m saying, in an admittedly long winded way, is thank you. Thank you for teaching me and helping me grow. Thank you for all of these lessons and more, but also for the memories, the dancing, the meals shared, the long talks, the laughs. I’m going to miss you all more than you know. Love you guys and happy graduation!