What makes our boarding school friends so special?
Short answer: From around the world, you come together in a community and bond for life. And those friendships, despite time and space, never end.
They are with you always - and you celebrate their achievements with more joy and pride than you do your own. Forgive me while I
I first met Soiya Gecaga in the first few days of our four year experience at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. We were both fourteen and far from home; I missed Cleveland, she missed Kenya. Yet we were all in the same boat at boarding school. As a class, in no time, we became like a family, relying on one another like siblings. Her outgoing personality and kindness made her an instant friend to me. As we approach our 20th Andover Reunion this June, I am proud to count her as one of my many life-long boarding school friends.
After we graduated in 1992, Soiya studied at St. Andrew's in Scotland while I headed to Penn. We lost touch; however, the summer of 2008, we reconnected in London. My original plan was to visit my brother Sean while he was studying at Oxford. Through Facebook, Soiya offered a night's stay before I headed out to see my brother. After a weekend in Ireland together, Sean had serious work to do for school.
So Soiya offered I stay at her house plus a week's worth of yoga at her local studio, Jivamukti Yoga School in London. Frankly, if you were to guess, the least likely to practice yoga from the class of PA '92... we might have of been tied. Yet here we were strolling to classes daily and sharing old stories of what we both remembered - or what we chose to remember in the stories that we each created. We were more than surprised by our differing stories on the same boarding school experience.
During that week, she also shared with me many books, each profound, but The Four Agreements changed my life. It had been recommended to me before - but now I had some time to read and discuss it with an old friend. With perspective, we could see how our memories were filled with assumptions that we had made when we were young. At the time, we thought we knew one another so well, but in reality, we had no clue of the heavy stories that we carried silently. We were judging, pretending, and trying - desperately - to be cool, to fit in, to be the best.
In our thirties, we could laugh at how high school drama was riddled with failure to be impeccable with one's word. We recognized how personally we took every slight or rumor. With anxiety at a school full of the best and brightest, we struggled with expectations, especially always do your best. We neglected the pronoun "your" and obsessed on being "the best."
Since Andover, our paths shared parallels as all lives do - high and lows, twists and turns as well as loss and redemption. Our conversations, both healing and inspiring, will be cherished forever.
Cut to today: scanning Facebook, I read Soiya's story. She embodies "act with compassion." The action she has taken inspires me to be the change that I wish to see in the world.
In June, I do hope Soiya will be at our reunion, but given her work, I will understand if she does not make it - we're with one another in spirit. I am grateful to be her friend.
(I am also grateful for social media and technology - that allows me to share her story and bring awareness to her work. Recently, we discussed the possibility of her visiting my WRA classes, possibly via Skype. On her next visit to the US, she is considering a stop in CAK or CLE. Now, that's a friend!)
At WRA, as we celebrate Go Make-a-Difference Day, we "acted with compassion" as an entire community in various service projects. It is also likely you made new friends in a new context outside your classes, sports, and social circles. Be open to these transformative experiences and the diversity of this community. You have an opportunity to make friends from around the world - that will be there for you for the rest of your life.
Therefore, in honor of today, and our recent service for MLK, I felt it fitting to share Soiya's story - and how our friendship - and how our boarding school experience has shaped our lives.
(Our school's motto: Non Sibi - Latin for "Not for Self").
Please read her essay published in today's Huffington Post.
Being the Change That I Wish To See In the World
by Soiya Gecaga
As I think about the year that has just gone by, I am filled with immense gratitude for all that I experienced in 2011. In many ways, 2011 was a life changing year for me. Most importantly, it was the year that my work with "We the Change" Foundation (in the field of early childhood education and care) started in earnest. Mahatma" Gandhi once said that "we must be the change that we wish to see in the world" and ever since I first heard these words quoted, they have strongly influenced me and the choices that I have made in my life. So much so, that I named the foundation with Gandhi's quote in mind.
Starting in January, my work really took off. It was the culmination of a long personal voyage of discovery, of transformation and of deep introspection. In the wake of the post-election violence that rocked Kenya in 2007-2008, I quit my job as a lawyer working in London and travelled to Kenya, where I was born. My goal was two-fold. Firstly, to get to know and to reacquaint myself with the country that I called 'home;' secondly, I was determined to find a meaningful way in which to give back to communities in my country that lacked opportunity.
I had sat at my desk in London, watching the devastation unfold on my computer screen and could not believe what I was witnessing. My fellow countrymen were killing and harming each other in ways that I previously could not have fathomed. Like many other Kenyans at the time, I found myself confused and perplexed at just how something this terrible could have happened. Question after question flooded my mind. Where was the hatred coming from? Why were communities that had previously lived in harmony now killing each other? Why were those in power not doing anything to stop the violence? I found myself looking to those in authority for answers. However, it was ordinary Kenyans who provided inspiration....Continued.