Two weeks ago, I marked my one year anniversary of living in the United States. With the exception of a slight hiccup where I changed my name and gender and moved across the country, I spent my whole life pretty much doing what I was supposed to. I was always nice to my little sister. I got As in high school. I finished college in four years, graduated with a degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies, and was awarded a Fulbright to teach English in Argentina. I’d been tutoring peers and younger students since high school, but the jump to classroom teaching felt like a big one.
And it went fine! I worked with good-natured adult students who were taking night classes to work in tourism, or to become English teachers themselves. They gave me advice on where to get the cheapest bootleg photocopies of our textbooks. They brought electric kettles to class on wintry nights when the lack of windowpanes had us all shivering, and they liked me enough to give me an advance heads-up when virtually the entire class was planning to skip school to avoid an in-class discussion.
As my yearlong grant came to a close, I looked ahead to the next step. A private school in Eastern Turkey was willing to hire me and even pay my airfare. I, a coveted native speaker, would teach “fun” English to eight, nine and ten year olds. I accepted, and kept accepting. Over the course of the next three years, my teaching career would span Turkey, Mexico, and Mongolia. Everywhere I went, I met amazing people. They helped me to register phones, take buses, and open bank accounts, taught me to play instruments and milk goats and cook, called me grandson and nephew and friend.
I had a good, stable job, and loved ones all over the world. But by the end of my fifth year abroad, I just wanted to do something else. As the long Mongolian winter set in, lesson planning became the most exhausting chore imaginable. I loved my students, but I could barely drag myself to class. On top of it all, I was having trouble getting a Mongolian visa, and the possibility of deportation weighed constantly on my mind. And then suddenly winter was over. I had made it through the year, and the first thing I thought was, “I don’t want to live out of a suitcase anymore.”
And so, one year and fourteen days ago, I came home. I was sitting around waiting to hear back about jobs I’d applied for, when I happened to think, “You know, I’d really like to take a printmaking class.” …which is how I found my way to North. It’s funny. I’ve loved art my whole life. My sixth grade math teacher once threatened to take points off my homework if I didn’t stop filling every millimeter of margin space with doodles. But until recently, I never considered the possibility of pursuing art in any serious way. I had plenty of excuses: “I don’t want to take the fun out of it”; “My stuff isn’t very polished”; “Art isn’t practical.” Taking an art class felt more daunting than deciding to hop on a plane and move someplace I’d never seen.
But somehow one printmaking class became a quarter of printmaking, drawing, digital art, and sculpture. And by the third week of school, I was introducing myself as an art major. All those years working abroad, I’d convinced myself that I moved every ten months because I wanted to keep exploring. But I was also running away. It was easier to reinvent myself year after year than have to actually decide who I wanted to be. Above all, I was paralyzed by one big question: what would happen if I tried for the one thing I deeply loved, and it ended in catastrophic failure?
One year and fourteen days later, the best answer I’ve come up with is: you’d find another way. Now that sounds obvious, but “setbacks happen, and sometimes there’s no way around them” is not the sort of conclusion I could have reached on my own, floundering through something terrifying in isolation. But because I spent the past year at North Seattle College, because I’ve finally been brave enough to put down roots, I have friends and mentors who have stood by me. Their support has fortified me against the inevitability of failure. The future is never certain, and I know I’m not the only person in this room doing something that scares me, but I also know my connection to the NSC community will last long after my graduation.
Looking around, I see resilience. I see people who have persevered, who—in spite of illness, racism, doubt, discrimination, economic pressure, pain, or fatigue—have given so much of themselves to make North what it is. It is an immense privilege to be a part of this community. Thank you so much for everything you have done, and everything you continue to do, and I wish you all the very best for the coming year.
Student Body President