(This is a speech I gave at the CEVAZ Las Mercedes graduation in Maracaibo, Venezela on July 21st 2014)
Distinguished guests, students, proud parents, exceptional teachers, the rest of the CEVAZ team...and of course, the wonderful graduates- who have brought us all here today......
It is quite an honour to be in front of you today.
Here I am, approximately 7,490 miles away from the city that I call home - Nairobi, Kenya.
Kenya, as you may know, is...........Asia.................one ocean away west of Asia. Africa.
So why is a Kenyan lady with a funny accent and one who speaks the Hakuna Matata language—in front of you today?
Funny accent- because it is partly British English mixed with Kenyan pronunciation and partly American English mixed with Zulian Spanish intonations. Bear with me. I guess I need to try and speak slowly and on the other hand, I need to finish this speech in good time.
Quite the dilemma!
So really--- why am I here in front of you today?
It is a question I have been trying to answer ever since I was asked to speak at this graduation.
I always pictured that I would have to be around 50-something and would have to be a business tycoon, mogul or an extremely successful –something- who speaks 7 languages, on the day that I would give a speech at a graduation – I mean, any graduation.
But look at me- here I am- just 20-something; well, 22 according to my students and approximately 28 according to my mum and the Kenyan government. I am barely an entrepreneur- barely. I am currently only a speaker of two and half languages- Spanish being the half- and that is mainly because its verb conjugation is like studying rocket science!
So, I am here still figuring out my own life....but today....today I get a chance to share some words of inspiration with you.
That’s huge and also a lot of pressure.
Therefore.....I really thank CEVAZ for trusting me enough to be here in front of you today. I figure that I would succeed if after this, you remembered at least one thing from this speech. And if you don’t remember a thing, well at least you would remember laughing at something silly that I might have said.
First, I would like to say- Congratulations! You are officially bilingual!
After all the hours and hours in class, all the written exams, all those oral exams- you actually survived!
You survived all those vocabulary exercises even when you did not know a thing!
You survived all those listening exercises (‘Unit 9 Lesson 2 Track 30....Listen to this conversation about a family travelling to planet Mars...’); you survived even the ones that you hated, the ones for pronunciation and sentences stress; and actually, you also survived all those lesson topics...even the ones you had no clue about—like Space Junk ?!!; you survived all those grammar rules and exercises; you even survived the Speaking practice activities- especially on those days when you were tired or when the sun had melted your English away—yes, this sun in Zulia is hot! Hotter than anything I have ever experienced. So really, my point is, you kept on going. You didn’t give up.
If you are sitting here today, it means you are a fighter. You had a goal and you achieved it. That is inspiring. It’s inspiring even to us teachers.
You know, sometimes we forget how much impact you have on us. Each day we run a class, we mostly think about how we are meant to make sure that you learn this or learn that. We have objectives and we have measurables for each lesson. What we often forget is that we also learn from you- our students. We learn a great deal of things.
From you as students, I have seen and learnt more about dedication, passion, excellence, perseverance, focus, strength, confidence and growth. And mixed in between all that, I have seen joy, happiness and laughter.
I count myself lucky.
As I said, I am currently 7,490 miles away from the city that I call home.
Nairobi is very much like Maracaibo actually. It is fairly big. It has a large population. You can’t answer your cellphone on the street. Ok- well you can- but you shouldn’t. And then you have Cabimas (-Where I live-)...In Cabimas, everything is small, except the SUN! I think the first new vocabulary I learnt when I arrived was ‘MUCHA CALOR’.
Anyway, I guess the big question you must be asking in your head right now is: why would she come 7,490 miles to be a CEVAZ teacher in Zulia state?
My answer to that is: Why not?
I’ll give you a tiny summary. 10 years ago, I began my Latin America obsession. It was around the same time that I joined University of Nairobi and the same time that I joined a life-changing student organisation called AIESEC. I remember telling myself that someday I would live in Latin America and learn Spanish.
A lot of things have happened since then...and at some point, I would even forget that dream and be pulled towards living a ‘normal life’; But because of AIESEC, that dream stayed alive. And it was exactly this month last year when I lost a job I thought would make my dreams come true, I decided to try my hand in entrepreneurship and then decided to chase the dream that had stayed with me for 10 years. I took the opportunity with the AIESEC global internship program, found CEVAZ and it was love at first sight :)
CEVAZ has allowed me to live my dream and to feed my passions. I count myself lucky to have been given this golden opportunity to work with such an amazing group of teachers, staff and students.
It’s my 9th month here and of course it hasn’t always been easy.
This has been the longest continuous duration in my life that I have been away from my family and close friends.
But I welcome challenges in whatever form they come in.
All the challenges I have had in the years I have been on this earth have taught me lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Challenges are a normal part of this big thing called life. In between the lines of struggle, we might as well colour our lives with as many dots of happiness as possible.
For me, being in Venezuela right now, working with CEVAZ and lovely groups of students is all part of those dots of happiness. All part of a dream that I have always had.
As I said before, I don’t feel extremely qualified to be up here giving words of wisdom- but I am hoping that me sharing my story will give you something that you can learn from and take back home with you.
There is a quote that to this day is one of the most amazing ones I have ever seen. It is by Mae West. It goes like this:
‘You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.’
If at all there is one thing that you should remember from this speech, it’s that quote.
I sing that quote inside my head each time I need to make a decision that will affect my future.
And I am sharing it with you today so that you can use as you walk out of those doors.
So, to today’s graduates: You are now bilingual. You are now a mini-expert at the language that will open doors for you not just here in Venezuela but anywhere else in this world. Take everything you have learnt here to help you out there: every lesson; every challenge; every dream- take them all with you.
You have been given this one life in order to make the most of it. So do just that.
Keep challenging yourself. You are now just as good as anyone else in the world who grew up with English as a second language. And if you don’t believe that...then at least believe that you CAN be or pretend that you are. There is no two and two about it.
And as you go on with your life outside the CEVAZ walls,
I wish you the kind of grace that you have shown here.
I wish you the kind of perseverance that you have demonstrated with every step.
I wish you the kind of strength that you have shared here.
I wish you the kind of excellence that you have quite obviously achieved until now.
And lastly, I wish you a life of truly living once, and doing it right so that, that once is indeed enough.