Given that this is my last blog post as a Mitchell, it seems essential to do a bit of reflecting. It has truly been quite an incredible year. I’ve couch-surfed with 21 people around the globe, visited 14 new countries, and ducked into countless cities, towns, coffee shops, beaches, and every nook and cranny of Europe, South America, and South Asia that I could duck into. Hell, I’m currently writing this while sipping on some Chianti in the heart of Tuscany. Most importantly, though, I along with my 1o fellow Mitchell Scholars this year, forged a special bond with one particularly small and beautiful country: Ireland.
Like many of us that receive the Mitchell Scholarship, my understanding of Ireland before this year was surface level at best. I knew the basics: beautiful landscapes, Guinness, and sadly, conflict. What I didn’t know was that living in a place changes your perception. I moved past tropes and started forging relationships that defined and continue to define my relationship to the space. Ireland is no longer just a series of pictures on Facebook, it is a tangible set of relationships I’ve built over the course of this year — some of which I hope to continue for the rest of my life.
One such relationship was with a coffee-making savant named Colin Harmon. Colin is the founder of 3fe, arguably the best coffee in Ireland and high on the list of my personal (albeit unimportant) rankings of coffee I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I met Colin through a strange set of connections from back in California. When we met, I had this zany idea in the back of my head of organizing a charity art show in partnership with my fellow Mitchell Scholar and incredible artist Julianne as part of a fundraising program in Ireland called 100minds. Somehow the idea came up in conversation and without any prompting, Colin offered to host the event, provide snacks and wine, and personally supported by purchasing one of the pieces. We ended up raising over 1500 euros (for more information you can also check out Julianne’s blog) while having tons of fun along the way. Ireland, for me, is shaped by these individual moments of extraordinary kindness that built into such an overwhelmingly positive experience.
My contribution to the art show…an online store.
I often think about what the true value proposition of the Mitchell Scholarship is for the people of Ireland. As the funding currently stands, the Irish government (and by proxy the Irish people) contributes substantially to making this program possible for us. While that funding stream is in jeopardy, I think it is important to reflect on what that burden really means.
For me, it as a responsibility to be a better citizen of the world, to be more like Colin to the next person that approaches me with a random email. I also look at it as a permanent bond with a nation whose vision is still being realized. Lest we forget, Northern Ireland is probably still growing at the slowest rate in the U.K. with youth unemployment hovering at about 20%. There is undoubtedly still plenty of work to do, and I know that somehow my future work will intertwine with helping to create future growth and prosperity on the island.
I’ll never forget Senator Mitchell’s words at the Abbey Theatre this year marking the anniversary of the Good Friday agreement and the centenary of 1916. During the speech, he described that during the negotiations his son was about to be borne and he was on a plane back to the U.S. He was considering giving up on the peace process since talks had stalled, but when he got back and saw his child being borne he had a breakthrough. He called his Belfast office and asked about how many children were born in Belfast that day. They said 61. After that moment, one of his most powerful sources of motivation was that 61 kids would still have to grow up in a conflict unlike his child that lived in freedom. The conflict was no longer an abstract concept. It was personal.
It is overwhelmingly clear to me, that it is not the time for the U.S. to turn its back on Ireland. Instead, now is the time to build on the progress we have made to fully realize the shared vision for prosperity that is still possible. Hopefully my fellow Mitchell Scholars (past, present, and future) and I will be a part of forging that vision for the future. Hopefully, we can continue to do something to help better the lives of those 61 young adults. For me, this issue is no longer abstract. It’s personal.
In the mean time, sláinte Ireland. Thanks for the memories.