OWN Talks: Never let circumstances define you

This OWN Talk was delivered by alumna Michelle Moises at a OneWorld Now! event in the Spring of 2018

I want you to do an exercise with me.

Imagine a high school with not enough books to even share with the person sitting next to you. Imagine a high school with broken chairs and the sounds of lockers falling over. Imagine a high school where every day, when you walked up to the third floor, you saw a dead rat in the stairwell.

This was my high school experience back in 2004 at Cleveland High School. I remember the times where I where would skip my biology to run across the street to get to the guy who sold pizza because he would run out. My only other option was to get a loaf of bread and maybe a bag of Skittles. It had to suffice.

To me, this was my “normal.” The 14-year-old me would have simply been happy to graduate from high school. I never thought about a college degree.

Everything changed my junior year of high school. I saw this flyer on the wall that read “learn Mandarin, learn Arabic, study abroad.” I remember thinking, “is my mind playing tricks on me? Do we actually have these programs at Cleveland?” I thought opportunities like this were only for rich people.

I joined the program, not knowing what to expect. And I instantly fell in love. I loved the Arabic class and the support from staff. I loved the Friday leadership sessions that made me really think about local and global issues. I love the space OneWorld Now! created to think deep into our desires and wildest dreams.

I remember one of the most important leadership classes to me personally. We had to create a vision board. On my vision board, I remember writing “I want to travel the world. And I want to get a college degree.”

Expensive dreams, right?

Although I wrote those down, I didn’t apply to go abroad that year. And as much as I wanted to, I knew I couldn’t afford it. I remember the deadline had passed; it was a Friday at leadership. Kristin, the Director, tapped me on the back of the shoulder and asked: “why didn’t you apply?” I told her “because I can’t afford it.”

She told me “you need to apply tonight.” And then followed up with words I will always remember: never let money be a factor in pursuing your dreams. So I applied. And that summer I packed my bags and flew across the world to Morocco, a beautiful and vibrant place that only exists in dreams.

It was unreal exploring ancient ruins, walking in the desert, trying new food, and being in a place with such great contrast from my life in Seattle. I constantly asked myself “is this real life?”

After that experience, I felt invincible. I conquered something that was bigger than me. It was a vision that manifested into reality. It was my defining moment where I thought that anything was possible. In the following years, I found myself traveling to places like the pyramids of Egypt, the white sand beaches of Tahiti, and the beautiful islands of Samoa. I also graduated with a college degree which 14 -year-old me would have thought impossible.

Four years passed and I decided to pursue a Masters degree. This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made because, one, no one in my family has ever attempted a Masters. Two, it’s expensive. And three, I am a mother now. How is this possible? I remember back to leadership class when Kristin said: “if your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.”

And grad school scared me. So I applied.

My first year of grad school was one of the toughest years of my life; trying to manage motherhood, a part-time job, and grad school. And then Trump became President, and it seemed like nothing could get any worse. I hit my lowest point at that moment and when you are down, the only way to look is up. I started to think I wasn’t supposed to be here, that I’m not smart enough. What I learned, when you are at difficult points in your life, you start to realize how you got there. I remembered my 15-year old self. At 15, if I can travel halfway across the world, where no one speaks the same language, and come back home feeling like a superhero, I can make it through grad school.

It was time for me to continue to own my experience. I finished my first year strong. It was hard but worth it.

When I thought about what kept me going through that year was thinking about my son. One day I want to be his inspiration. I want him to do the impossible, and I want him to follow his dreams in spite of any circumstances. And, most importantly, to be his impeccable self.

All of this brings me here today to share some of the key points I’ve learned from OneWorld Now!. Never let circumstances define you. Never allow money to be the reason you don’t pursue your dreams. Never let go of your vision because anything is possible.

Take a moment and visualize a dream that scares you. Because if you can imagine it, you can make it your reality.

OWN Talk: Life Lessons Learned at OneWorld Now! from OneWorld Now! on Vimeo.

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