Guest Post {Lydia Angell}

I’m excited to share the following essay with you, written and read by my very own sister at the 2014 Baccalaureate Ceremony of East Grand Rapids High School.  I couldn’t be more sad to have missed it, or more proud to be able to share her wisdom with you. Her words resonate deeply with me, as I conclude this chapter of my life and begin the next.  Thank you, Lydia, for challenging me to teach my students here to “fish,” and encouraging me to consider to ask questions that matter in whatever I do next.

Whether you are going to college next year, taking a year off, or finding a job, there will be many things to look forward to and many things to miss as we head off into the “real world”. We will all have days when we miss home and we will all have days when we are so happy to be somewhere else. I have full confidence in all of us that we are well prepared for whatever we choose to take on in the coming years. No one can say that East Grand Rapids is a bad place to grow up. Many, myself included, say that they can’t wait to get out of East, but hardly anyone tries to deny the preparedness that graduates from East have to be successful after they graduate.  

I am sure many of you have heard the old adage, if you give a man a fish you will feed him for a day, but teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. I recently came across a new perspective of the story in Shane Claiborne’s book, The Irresistible Revolution. He says “as we consider economics, some of us will give people fish. Others will teach people to fish. But still others must be looking at who owns the pond and who polluted it, for these are also essential questions for our survival.”

Two summers ago I had the opportunity to intern at Mel Trotter Ministries, a homeless shelter downtown. I always knew that poverty and homelessness were problems in places like Detroit, Chicago and New York, but when I heard people say that the homeless in Grand Rapids have the opportunity to eat six meals a day, I believed that we didn’t have a poverty problem. The real issue is not that the homeless are not being feed fish, the problem is no one is teaching them how to fish, no one is asking who owns the pond. It was through my personal interactions with the homeless that I learned the importance of reaching out. I realized that our generation are the ones that can teach people to fish.

It’s this kind of forward thinking that I fully expect from many of my peers. I see in them vast potential, potential that can be realized because of the opportunities we are afforded growing up in East. This is my hope for our class, and for myself, that we are not content with passivity and that we all become leaders in our own right. In our class I see future activists and politicians, I see doctors and nurses, lawyers and teachers, amongst a myriad of other careers.  Whether you are staying in Grand Rapids or going to a foreign country next year, I encourage everyone to at least help someone put a worm on their hook. I truly believe that we are all capable of making a small change that could impact someone else’s life in a large way.

– Lydia Angell, East Grand Rapids High School Baccalaureate Speech, May 2014

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A Girl Scout Dropout… Fourteen Years Later

I write to you not from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, as you were probably expecting based on my last post, but rather, from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I made the difficult decision on Friday to say “no” to a summer with YouthWorks and “yes” to myself.

After a week of training in Birmingham, Alabama, I called Southwest Airlines, changed my return flight ticket for 73 days earlier than originally scheduled, and came home.

I realized I didn’t actually want to spend my summer traveling, working long days, and meeting new people.  As exciting and rewarding these new places and relationships might be, I decided that it would also be draining for me (someone who is as introverted as they come, according to the Myers-Briggs). I realized that I am so blessed by the friendships and relationships I have in Michigan and I want to spend my summer with those people instead.

I realized that all of my stresses– obtaining my visa, not having enough time to prepare to go to Spain, limited communication, etcetera– weren’t going to change once I left training in Birmingham and got to Virginia.  (Side-note for any of my 18 followers who don’t know yet: I received a Fulbright grant to teach English in Spain and am planning to leave in early September).  I realized that Fulbright is a once-in-a-lifetime chance and I need to be prepared– physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually– for this opportunity and dream of mine.

I had accepted the job with YouthWorks in February, long before I found out about Fulbright, and never looked back.  I never gave myself the opportunity to reconsider or the chance to rethink my decision.  I didn’t want to be a quitter.

I was trying to think really hard about if I’d ever “quit” anything before.  At first I couldn’t think of anything…but then I realized, I quit Girl Scouts after second grade!  The Thin Mints were stellar and the patches on my brown sash were a source of pride, but it was simply too much for me.  After a long day of school, the last thing I wanted to do was sit in a circle in the art room after school, singing songs and saying the Girl Scout pledge with all the other second grade girls.  It was just too much.

I felt the same way about YouthWorks. Too much.  Maybe “quit” is a strong a word.  Someone told me that I should think of it as making a choice, and choosing to do something for myself.

So, now I’m back in Grand Rapids, with no job and no car and no plans for the next three months.  And it feels right.

“I did something that no self-respecting, over achieving, college bound, honors student would do.  I quit something…This year I have decided to quit Spanish in order to do what I really want to do, what I actually want to learn…If you are passionate about something and pursue it, that does not make you less of a student.  It makes you different, unique.  If you aren’t doing what makes you happy now, maybe you should reconsider your priorities of the moment.  I’m not saying that everyone should ‘yolo’ it up and not consider their futures at all, but it’s perfectly acceptable to make decisions that make you happy right now.” – Wise words from Lydia Angell, which appeared in The East Vision (EGR High School’s newspaper) Volume XXIV on May 23, 2013