In high school, I resented what felt at the time like unnatural attempts to inculcate us with a set of values that the school firmly believed in. Even if I believed in service, diversity, and intercultural dialogue, the workshops and lectures that Hotchkiss arranged and put us through always felt forced, which ended up accomplishing the opposite—namely many students would check out of the activities—rather than deep engagement and learning.
For that reason, I can only remember one speaker from Hotchkiss, but he ended up changing my life. Patrick Cook-Deegan, a 23 year old recent graduate of Brown University, came to speak to us about how he had biked all across Southeast Asia. For every mile he rode, he got friends and family to pledge a dollar amount. He ended up biking 2,800 miles, which allowed him to raise $22,500 to build a school, library, and to provide scholarships to a number of students in rural Laos.
While the journey itself as incredible – the dedication, the passion, and the relationships built – that’s not what set him apart. Like I said, I can’t remember any other speakers from my time at Hotchkiss, but I’ve looked at the profiles of some of the other speakers they’ve had recently, and they also have accomplished unbelievable things. What set Patrick apart was his relatability. Part of that was an age thing, but the more important aspect was his ability to convey a story in language that made sense to an angsty teenage audience. He showed vulnerability, was funny, and used metaphors that we could relate to.
Up until that point, I hadn’t been particularly motivated while at Hotchkiss. However, the fact that Patrick was highly relatable made me feel like I could do something similar. I thought about his experience in the context of my own story and started recalling the pain I felt on trips to India, in which I saw people suffering from physical ailments and hunger as a result of socioeconomic deprivation. Combining these two thoughts, I decided to organize a trip to India to work at the Avadh School, a school that my grandmother and her women’s empowerment group had set up for underprivileged children.
We were able to teach at the school and arrange art and sports activities for the children, and were also able to donate funds that allowed the school to add computers, provide scholarship, and double in size. This was my first foray into international development, and in retrospect, we probably benefited just as much as the children at the school did during that week. At the same time, the importance and richness of the experience should not be discounted, as it ultimately has inspired future efforts by members of the group.
For me in particular, this experience was instrumental in the lead up to the founding of SEEKHO. The summer after my junior year, I was brainstorming ideas for improving the Avadh School. While I had a number of ideas for improving the school, like integrating small business into the curriculum in order to teach practical skills and improve financial sustainability, I wanted to get more experience with an existing organization first. As a result, I took the first semester of my senior year off, and worked with the organization Pratham. While working with Pratham, I ended up actually founding SEEKHO. As a result of these efforts, I was asked by Hotchkiss to give a talk on service, which I did on November 7.
Being back at the school in that capacity was something I had never imagined doing. However, as I prepared for the event, I thought about Patrick’s talk and about what I had enjoyed about it—that he hadn’t lectured at us, that he showed rather than told, and that he was relatable. As a result, I decided that I wanted to limit my own personal narrative to only 5-7 minutes, and instead, wanted to give the students an experience that would allow them to feel my own underlying beliefs and assumptions. Thus, after giving a talk on my story and on SEEKHO, I organized an activity for the students to do, in which they had to write down a message of gratitude and deliver it in ten minutes.
The idea was to show the students the importance of action. We often times make excuses for why right now is not the right time to become a changemaker or to improve our lives in someway, so this was a way for the students to make the world better in just ten minutes. The feedback I received was generally positive, with one girl saying that I was relatable, though there is most definitely room for improvement in terms of finding the right balance between storytelling and involving the audience. In general, though, coming full circle like that was a special experience that I’ll always remember.