On my desk in Belfast, I keep a photograph of my students from my first year teaching. It’s filled with all the imperfections that usually accompany these types of pictures. Some kids are looking in the wrong direction; some have their eyes closed. And a few look like they want to kill the cameraman.
But for me, it’s my own imperfections that stand out. Not my long, unkempt hair or the fact that I forgot a tie on picture day. Rather, I see the bigger mistakes I made that year. The things I could have taught but failed to; the minutes wasted because of my own inexperience.
This year, that picture has kept me focused. It constantly reminds me that I came to Ireland for a purpose. I wanted to learn more about how to improve my country and about how to make lives, like my kids’, better.
With these goals in mind, I thought I would emerge with a definitive life plan. That I would end the year saying, “I want to be a lawyer.” “I want to be an activist.” “I want to be a teacher or professor.” But I haven’t.
Instead, my experiences in Ireland have given me something more. They’ve given me greater perspective and purpose for making decisions about my future. My classes at Queen’s and my work at the PPR Project have both reinforced my belief that the most ignored deserve a voice. And that without that voice being heard, we all lose out.
Classes at Queen’s have finished, only to be replaced by thesis writing in libraries and coffee shops. Volunteering at PPR will soon be swapped for working there as an employee. And in Limerick and Dingle, our last organized Mitchell event ended with a lively discussion about the future and staying in touch.
It makes me incredibly thankful to know that as we start these new beginnings, I’ve grown as a person. Although I feel less certain of what I will do, I feel much more confident to face that uncertainty well.
As always, thank you to the donors and to Trina and Mary Lou who have all made this year possible. I will be in your debts forever.