AnnaBeth Lane delivered this speech on Saturday, May 6th at the KIVU Gap Year Continuation Ceremony on behalf of the Class of 2017.
Last year around this time, I was standing in a collegiate basketball arena about to give my high school graduation speech. In the speech I remember concluding with an excerpt of an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote saying “I hope you do things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of and if you find that you are not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again”.
Afterwards, I was praised for saying these words that weren’t even my words and many of my classmates said they teared up. I realize now that those words were a very nice sentiment, a nice thing to say and that people like to hear things that are nice. I realize that we can celebrate neat, nice quotations much easier than we can live them out and I realize the great rarity it is to actually do those things, to intentionally do something that scares us, to allow ourselves to feel the highest of highs and lowest of lows, and to truly embrace those who think differently. But today I realize though not many take on such an endeavor, we have.
Our gap year was rich. Many times we found ourselves in situations we never would have had we been in college or doing something else this year. Some of these situations gave us a sense of fullness and beauty and feeling more alive than we ever have. Some of them made us feel like it was all coming together. Some of these situations, in the moment, seemed undesirable, terrible even. Some of them made us want to go home. Some of these situations were just incredibly strange and hilarious. Some of them may not even seem believable.
So yes this year was rich. It was hard, and terrifying, and amazing, and strange, and everything all at once. It was discovering new foreign cities and finding our places in them. It was riding buses in Denver and feeling fully human. It was when your Indonesian host parents drove an hour outside of the city to take you to Texas Roadhouse for dinner. It was reading a book to the little girl named Tinka and it igniting a whole new world in you. It was finding community in homeless people and seeing Jesus in them. It was making and sharing meals together, even when those meals turned out to be overly salted burgers. It was when your favorite kindergarten student at your school hugs you and shares her life with you. It was being invited into the homes of different people of different ethnicity and religion and being accepted and embraced regardless. It was hiking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and feeling compelled by the story of a good Samaritan a broken land. It was meeting strangers that soon became dear friends. It was being overfed and paraded around by extravagant Jordanians. It was riding a moto through hills of Rwanda in just the right light listening to Heroes by David Bowie. It was walking into the sunset of Santiago then seeing the city light up. It was experiencing love from people who spoke a different language. It was realizing that all humans are humans, all worthy and important. It was summiting a mountain or finishing a trek through the Patagonia. It was being hit with the sudden, sweet realization that you can do hard things and that they are worth doing.
Then there were the other moments- the moments when wet stained streets didn’t treat us well. It was taking the wrong bus and ending up an hour away from where you’re supposed to be. It was almost crying at a social service office because you have no idea how to get a refugee a social security card. It was when you had a long commute and just didn’t feel like getting up. It was when you were just tired of your restroom being a hole in the ground with lizards running about it. It was when you felt lonely and maybe unwanted. It was realizing that you don’t know who you are at all. It was when your well meaning host family compliments you for being “somehow fatter” and you just want to go to your room and never eat their carb generous meals again. It was when you felt like everything you’ve known may not be true. It was when the world felt heavy and you did not know how to make it less. It was when you try to explain in Spanish that you were waiting at the bus stop and it translates as “I am a bus stop”. It was when you did not feel competent or worthwhile in your work. It was experiencing heart-breaking realities of humans different than you. It was thinking about things that people don’t want to think about. It was feeling helpless. It was feeling lost. It was feeling like you could not do it.
But gap year was all these moments, and you can’t have the former ones without those latter and not all adventures are pony rides in May sunshine. But though these moments, all the moments, we began the hard work of living a life we are proud of. We have taken ourselves up and out of comfortable places, displaced ourselves to experience a world more alive, more rich. And I am sure this experience will not be left in these moments, and that it will come back throughout our lives. I’m sure that because of it we will live fuller lives, fighting the good fight in this world whether that be through art or business or law or writing or social work or being an international pilot or a computer engineer.
I am so proud to be a part of such a beautiful cohort of people that may very way be the only people I can ever fully relate to on this experience. I am proud that we have taken ourselves out of the ordinary and proper places and trust that this will carry us all to lead rich, compassionate lives. So thank you Kivu Gap year allowing us to have these moments. Thank you to all the staff for supporting us and challenging us. Thank you to all our parents who let their child leave home to do something incredibly uncertain and unconventional. Thank you Kivu Gap year for helping us live lives we are proud of, and for giving us the strength to start them all over again.