Our stories shape us. We all have underlying truths that get created each day from the moment we are born. They take us to where we are now and influence where we’ll be.
I am passionate about the environment, nature, and animals. However, seeing how our actions have victimized our world, and how we’ve all collectively contributed to the rapid deterioration of our planet, it became difficult for me not to go down this rabbit hole of blame. I had been so focused on the cruel and selfish side of humanity that I neglected how warm our hearts can get when we begin to listen to one another. It was during the Goodnight Scholars’ North Carolina: Mountains to Coast trip last month that I got to reconnect with all the awe-inspiring traits that make human beings unique.
During the trip, I entered a safety bubble where showing vulnerability and opening up allowed us to float higher together, and to connect more with each other. I felt my heart warm up when I heard everyone’s aspirations and reasons as to why they are doing the things they do. Things rooted in family, faith, cultural experiences, teacher interactions, determination to push through barriers, and being the exception. Every person in this world has a valuable story that should not be compared to another to see which is the most dramatic or the most inspiring. It is about recognizing our backgrounds with the intention to understand and to better relate to one another. All those past experiences—good or bad, bitter or sweet, dark or light—have had an impact on how we face the world today, why we have chosen a certain major, why we want to be involved in a particular area of interest, and (in our case) why we are part of the Goodnight Scholars Program.
I remember the prevailing advice I was told on Finalist Interview Day.
“Tell your story. Be yourself and talk about what moves you and what you are passionate about.”
At that time, I could tell you everything about my love for the environment and the reason why I chose my major. Yet, it was hard for me to articulate my story. I had been suppressing the unpleasant periods of my past as a way to cope with them, and I did not want to talk about them. How do my struggles compare to, let’s say, those who don’t have access to clean water when I can drink it from my kitchen’s faucet? I always thought that it could get worse, and that I should be grateful, so I hid them. I hid the times I wanted to cry out of frustration or break down from the accumulation of unfortunate events happening to me at some point. All because I thought that hiding would make them go away. Otherwise, showing them and complaining would only make me feel guilty knowing there are bigger problems out there, so I just handled them on my own. However, now I understand the importance of being vulnerable and allow yourself to feel.
Living our stories and giving them the value they deserve show our authentic selves. Reflecting back on my life, I see that my passion for the environment was not the only push that allowed me to get to where I am. It is reciprocating my parents’ love and trust on me, and giving them joys that demonstrate my dad’s continuous effort to provide for us and ensure my mom’s full commitment to raising me and my siblings rather than following her career dreams were not in vain. It is showing my siblings that you can accomplish something that you set your mind to no matter how many times giving up might appear as the only possibility. It is my teachers supporting me through simple words such as, “You can!” or “One day you will be a great engineer.” It is proving those that turned their backs to me that they were wrong. It is my culture believing in me not to lose touch of my roots even when I fear discrimination. It is my compatriots’ fight for their land and natural resources inspiring me to give back and somehow help them push forward. It is my gender rooting for more representation and breakthroughs. It is the laughs and whispers about my introverted personality. And now it is every one of you, Mountains to Coast team, whose resilience and selfless support inspired me to keep pushing through with my heart in my hands and love in my eyes.
This service trip gave me a sweet reminder of how when we all come together, have a collective goal in mind, and join our individual efforts as a whole, we can accomplish amazing things while revealing the truest form of humanity. It is in our nature to be a community where we help one another, cherish our wins, and extend a whole arm when sometimes all we need is a hand. Each person in the group did not have to tell me what they were passionate about; I only had to open my eyes and see. It was through their actions where they showed who they really are and what they care about. Sometimes we lose contact with our ability to see when we are looking, or to listen when we are hearing. By paying attention, I saw the light in her eyes when she talked to the kids, showing her passion for education. I listened to his thought process on fixing the recliner sofa’s handle and contemplating taking a seat apart just to find someone’s headphones, showing his interest in engineering. And I felt the emotion she experienced with teary eyes at everyone’s stories, showing her sincere compassion and care towards people’s well-being.
The experiences I’ve had so far in the Goodnight Scholars Program and at NC State don’t fail to emphasize the significance of staying true to your passion. Earlier this year, I attended a performance at the Stewart Theatre by YAMATO- the Drummers of Japan, whose title for the show was “Passion.” It was a captivating and heartfelt performance that made my organs vibrate with each hard stroke on the 500 kg drums. On the programming booklet, I found a phrase from one of their acts’ descriptions that accurately summarizes our resilience— “We’ll keep fighting ourselves, even when it seems like we’re about to lose.”
We keep going because every step along the way is worth it. Whether we trip or skip, we know that what’s in front of us waiting to be reached is much greater. That is the fuel that mobilizes us and allows us to wake up every morning to face life again, one step closer to our goal. We need to take care of our eternal flame because at the end of the day, regardless of the wind and the water we may encounter, we have the power to ignite it once again. Having the ability to learn from our past experiences and use them to create better versions of ourselves, will inspire those around us to protect their own unique flames. What I learned so far is that we need to let our soul dance at the upbeat and gloomy sounds and radiate kindness to our surroundings because negativity won’t help anyone. One thing we all have in common is that we silently dream, and whether we know it or not, we are moving towards something that once there, will make us breathe a sigh of relief and with a smile whisper “Finally.”
Photography credit: Jason Perry/Goodnight Scholars Program