From a Crossroads, a New Path

jamiela_talk1On May 14, Partners for Change Fellow Jamiela McDonnough, served as one of two guest speakers for the Colin Powell Center's End-of-Year Celebration. Jamiela, a senior majoring in biology with a minor in studio art, offered the following excerpted remarks to her fellow students, family members, Center staff, and guests. It’s the end of another academic year. The Center is winding down for the semester and it’s my turn to graduate. Now for as long as I have been waiting for this moment, it feels different than I expected. I feel happy and excited, of course. But I feel a little sad and sentimental, things I thought I’d never feel at graduation. I’ve had my share of challenges at City College not unlike most of you. A little over a year ago, I would have sold a kidney to graduate early. But looking back on things now, I realize that everything happens for a reason. The rocky path I chose has led me to some great opportunities including being here to speak with you all. And I wouldn’t change that for anything.

For those of you who are not familiar with my story, I came to City College in 2007, where I enrolled in the Sophie Davis program. I loved the mission behind the school and what it might ultimately mean for me: a shorter cheaper way to becoming the physician that I wanted to be. I made friends, I was intellectually challenged, and at times I was even addressed as Doctor. But for all those positives, there were just as many difficulties, which led me to a crossroads during my third year. Ultimately, I resigned from the program.

To some of you this may not seem like the end of the world, but it was for me then. I was down and I doubted myself even though I knew I made the right decision. I wasn’t happy where I was and that had to change. So I took the next semester off and decided to go away and clear my head. I left for Peru in September of 2011 with my suitcase and a journal in tow. It may have been the greatest decision I’ve made to date. The country is gorgeous and diverse and people were so warm and welcoming. In Huancayo, I divided my time volunteering in a clinic & working with children. But of all the things I did there, my favorite part was trekking to Machu Picchu.

Now quick question, who here has ever hiked up a mountain?

For those of you who haven’t, imagine this; You leave early in the morning and its cold, so you have layers of clothes on and a regular backpack. It starts off pretty easy. But as you get higher, things quickly change. The air gets thinner and the lack of oxygen makes it hard to breathe, and the sun is getting higher in the sky making you extremely warm. Your eyes can see that your surroundings are beautiful, but you’re not even thinking about that because you’re so exhausted and sweaty. This backpack now feels like it's full of bricks, your legs are tired, and your pulling the layers off until the climate change forces you to put them back on. Maybe just maybe, if you’re like me, you have to stop and ride the emergency horse for a little while. [My excuse is that my legs are short so I have to use more energy to keep up with the tall people.] And then you reach the peak, and you feel nothing but joy. Despite the weakness your body feels, your mind and soul are on a high that overpowers everything. Faith confidence and delight replace any doubts you’ve had about reaching that peak.

That is how I feel today. This past year has been the peak of my experience here at City College.

There aren’t enough adjectives in the world to describe how great my time in the center has been. I’ve been granted opportunities and experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. From the professional workshops, meeting Secretary-General Kofi Annan and General Powell, my internship, to seminar meetings with Shena Elrington, I’ve been blessed to meet professionals who have mastered their fields and inspire me to carve my own path to success.

I’m honored to have been part of the “Partners for Change” program under the impeccable guidance of Sophie Gray. In this short year, we as partners for change have interned and learned, mastered the literature review, and even made presentations to benefit our communities. This specialized program is more intimate because of its size but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. This group of peers is family to me. The friendships I’ve made and cultivated are what I value most. The trip to Washington, DC gave me the chance to bond with the two-year fellows and it was such a great time. On that trip, I think I had the chance to speak with most if not all of the fellows at one time or another and every conversation was so easy like we already knew each other. What we had in common brought us together despite our different backgrounds and majors. That commonality is our desire to make and inspire positive change in the world.

My wish for the new fellows is that you, too, embrace the opportunity to bond with the fellows within your program and in the others.

This fellowship is the best experience I’ve had in my years at City College and I’m sad to see it end. But from this, I know I’ve learned a couple of things that I hope you all can take with you. First, obstacles lead to opportunity, and second, the road to success is not on any map. Instead, you have to forge it yourself. And remember it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there as long as you do.

Thank you.