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