Last week we visited a school that Shahi has partnered with as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility. Shahi provides this school, and several others, with sports equipment, computers, science labs, and other valued resources for children. Part of our visit involved a ceremony of sorts, in which the program was explained in detail and important figures were recognized amongst both parties. As interns, we often receive tangential praise simply for being a part of Shahi, even if we have had relatively little exposure to the initiative at hand. Roses are gifted with lasting applauses as our names are announced in the same breath as the heads of departments and school principals. This attention can feel uncomfortable at times. While it is always well intentioned, and incredibly gracious, I can’t help but feel undeserving.
School officials asked our intern group if we would say something to the room full of students and teachers. In similar, past visits, I remained silent. But I realized that I was sitting up on the stage, receiving praise for a program that provides students with the tools to aspire to high level universities, to skilled professions like doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, engineers. And here I was, a student at a high level university, applying to law school, and I was sitting silent, receiving undeserved recognition. Was this really the model to aspire to?
I am a self-proclaimed introvert. Speaking to a large room, in an unfamiliar environment, with limited language capabilities, and limited experience with the program being discussed, would intimidate anyone. But as a more reserved, “shy,” person the expectation that you’ll say anything diminishes even more. My co-interns looked absolutely shocked when I stood up. But that’s partially why I felt so inclined to speak.
Sure, it was a bit nerve wracking. I think the kids could sense that when I walked to the front of the stage, because they broke out into laughter. But a couple words in, and I found my genuine thoughts and feelings about the program overcome those nerves. I forgot about who might judge me, and what could go wrong, and I just spoke because I felt it was a message that should be heard.
To the students I am from a noted University in the United States working at a large company. I am what they’re often told to aspire to. But standing there in front of them, I was just a young woman, speaking to a large room, in an unfamiliar environment, with limited language abilities and limited experiences. One day, sooner rather than later, they might find themselves in a similar situation. Feeling out of place, a little judged, in a new, unfamiliar place. It might not feel natural, or of extreme comfort to “speak up.” But I wanted them to see that the level of confidence, and assurance, and success, that they are told to achieve, is a constant work in progress. Unfortunately, for reasons simply because of the country, class, or skin color they were born into, there will be more barriers placed in front of them. There will be plenty of people, institutions, and regulations that attempt to restrict their growth. But that should never deter them. Who they are, and what others perceive as flaws or weaknesses, should only motivate them further.
Although on a smaller scale, this is something I always try to keep in mind. People who can’t appreciate differences in personalities, upbringings, character molds, origins, try to tear others down. But there is no better way to combat judgment and criticism than by continuing to be you, and using those distinctions to your advantage.