I finally know my next step after graduation — non-profit work. Here is a note on why, a shout-out to those who share my dreams, and a thank you to those who helped me find them.
I must admit that I have thought before … anyone can volunteer. The real achiever earns multiple degrees, has internships and a career in a tall building. Volunteering is only for spare time because there are no qualifications, no minimum GPAs — anyone can volunteer.
But here is the one thing I want to tell you. In my entire life, I have never felt more important than in the days I spent doing something that anyone can do.
On a Rollins field study in Thailand, I stood in front of a little girl dressed in the only outfit she ever owned. I thought about her family back in Burma and those she had already lost, and I wondered if she would ever see those living family members again. I looked in her dark brown eyes and saw reflected in them the mountains of garbage piled up behind me that made the trash dump that she lived on. I thought about her life back in Burma and how living as a refugee on this trash dump with dogs defecating and broken glass and needles every few feet was an improved circumstance in her life from where she had been before.
I opened my backpack and took out a new doll. That little girl’s eyes looked back at me and I saw something that no Ph.D., no BMW, no iPod, no outstanding MCAT score could ever compare to. She smiled at me and those few hours I was there, she forgot about the entire world. We played with the doll and we ran and we danced and we played Frisbee and we hugged and she and I were the happiest people in the world.
We forgot about all the suffering and the pain that has been her reality since she came into this world, and we just lived. Every day, volunteers struggle to bring kids like her food, shoes, Band-Aids, and — every once in a while — a simple new toy and a friend to play with.
To those of you who will never be satisfied with only an office-wall full of certificates and degrees and conference awards: you will find something more.
You will find that instead of looking at plaques and trophies at the end of your life, you can look at a bracelet a little boy made for you in Africa, you can look at pictures of a healthy baby whose mother finally got health care because of your work, you can look at the frames on your wall with pictures that a child in the oncology ward drew for you when you brought arts and craft s to his hospital, and you can take a walk through a village that has clean water because you were there.
And I will join you. Maybe it is true that anyone can do it. But will you do it?
Thank you Rollins, Office of International Programs, Office of Community Engagement, Career Services, Assistant Professor of Political Science Dan Chong, Buddist Monk Ashin, and thank you to the fifteen individuals who were there with me when I found myself in Thailand. I have learned from you all that service can be your entire life.
Most of all, thank you to the little girl who reminded me what really matters … and whose smile has become both my purpose and my place.