I have been away from Portugal for almost a year now. This next month is all that remains of all the one-year marks. After this, there will be two, and three, and four-year marks, but the first year is over. In the past twelve months I have broken hearts (including my own), stayed up late aching with saudade, cried, gone to school, made new friends, gotten a new sister from the Philippines, gotten accepted to and rejected from universities, received almost $300,000 in scholarship offers, been chosen as the best English student of 2012 at my school, graduated from high school as one of two salutatorians, behind two valedictorians (all of whom I am honored to have spent the last four years with), and given a speech in front of 700 people. My salutatorian speech is below. (:
"My name is Katie Gutierrez and I am honored to be speaking to you all from this cool podium on this special day. Today, May 13th, 2012 is the day that we set out into the world to topple dictators and wage world peace, and I know I’m supposed to say something inspiring to you about that, but when I sat down to write this speech all I could think about was what all of you have taught me. I feel as if these four years I have given a lot, but that can’t be compared with what I’m taking away from this experience; because of the things I’ve learned from you. First, meet everything with love. Every opportunity we have to act with love instead of anger or defensiveness is a chance to make something better, kinder, truer. Peace, after all, is a chain reaction of love. Second, we’ve got to follow our dreams, even if it means getting out of our comfort zone and fighting for them. Third, we have to thank the people who help us. Nobody does anything alone, and even us at the top of the class can’t claim to have done things all by ourselves. So thank you to Mr. Kindel, who met every transcript request form with a smile, and to Ms. Millea, who sat down with each and every one of us at some point or another just to rearrange our schedule or figure out our credits. Thank you to Mr. Wine, for your willingness to do eleven drafts of a personal statement over email with me, to Mr. Smith for being the best nerdy advocate ever, and to Ms. Kuehne, who was a constant source of inspiration. Thank you to my mom--Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! and dad who were happy to support me in anything I chose to do, even if it wasn’t engineering. I still don’t want to be an engineer, but your efforts were admirable. And thank you to the class I spent the last four or more years with, who shaped me into the person standing before you today. I could go on and on, but we’ve got graduating to do.
Jim Rohn said “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” but I’d like to expand that to say you are the average of every person you’ve spent more than five minutes with. Why five minutes? Because lives are changed in five-minute-increments. But mostly because I am proud to be the average of all of you, even those who I’ve never spent more than five minutes with. For a long time, and I’m quoting John Knowles here, “I felt that I was not, never had been, and never would be a living part of this overpoweringly solid and deeply meaningful world around me.” But the people in this auditorium right now have helped me inhabit the world and have inspired me to give back to it. And I have something to say to the person who couldn’t make it today, to Nick Martin. Nick, you helped us see that one person can touch the lives of hundreds of people. So we’d like to thank you for that. I’m sorry I never got the chance to know you, but you should know that we miss you, but you’ll stay with us as long as we live. [PAUSE]
Tim O’Brien wrote the following quote about war, but it seems to apply to all of us today. “You find yourself studying the fine colors on the river, you feel wonder and awe at the setting of the sun, and you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not.” This potential is what we carry now. We’re moving too fast for the way the world is not to catch us--we are the world, and we’re not stopping. Because if any generation had a chance at creating positive change in the world, it’s us. The future is our empty canvas to draw upon. We can paint hope and wild, creative energy onto our lives and hang them up for the world to see. We can manifest the idea that to live is to be, and not to succeed by another’s terms. We are free to wander, and wonder, and that is the most freeing thought I’ve ever had. We have the choice to carry whatever we like, and the class of 2012 carries each other. I’d like to end my time with a quote from an old friend--William Shakespeare, that is--and say “I can no other answer make, but thanks, and thanks.” Here’s to the EMHS class of 2012 and all the lives we’ll touch and dreams we’ll achieve when we use these things we’ve taught each other. We did it, we’re coming, and the world had better watch out. "
This fall I will be attending UNM on a full scholarship, planning to major in Economics and Political Science. I hope to do another exchange in college, in Denmark or Morocco! Or another country, I'm not set on those two. After my undergrad, I'm hoping to take a year or two off before grad school to teach abroad. Maybe getting TEFL certified this summer? Maybe I’ll go back to Portugal, maybe I’ll go somewhere else this time. Who knows where my wanderlust will take me next?
There are kids around the world right now that are preparing to go home from the incredible year that was their exchange. To them, I wish the best that life has to offer. Don't live in the past, but don't forget. Count on coming back! You will do great things, and I'm so glad you got this opportunity. Love from NM! Below is a letter to this year's exchange students.
“Dear brave exchange students,
In a couple of weeks we will reluctantly give our hugs and, fighting the tears, we will say goodbye to people who were once just names on a sheet of paper to return to people that we hugged and fought tears to say goodbye to before we ever left. We will leave our best friends to return to our best friends.We will go back to the places we came from, and go back to the same things we did last summer and every summer before. We will come into town on that same familiar road, and even though it has been months, it will seem like only yesterday.
As you walk into your old bedroom, every emotion will pass through you as you reflect on the way your life has changed and the person you have become.You suddenly realize that the things that were most important to you a year ago don’t seem to matter so much anymore, and the things you hold highest now, no one at home will completely understand. Who will you call first? What will you do your first weekend home with your friends? Where are you going to work? Who will be at the party Saturday night? What has everyone been up to in the past few months? Who from school will you keep in touch with? How long before you actually start missing people barging in without calling or knocking?
Then you start to realize how much things have changed, and you realize the hardest part of being an exchange student is balancing the two completely different worlds you now live in, trying desperately to hold on to everything all the while trying to figure out what you have to leave behind.We now know the meaning of true friendship. We know who we have kept in touch with over the past year and who we hold dearest to our hearts. We’ve left our world to deal with the real world. We’ve had our hearts broken, we’ve fallen in love, we’ve helped our best friends overcome eating disorders, depression, stress, and death. We’ve lit candles in the grotto and we’ve stayed up all night on the phone just to talk to a friend in need. There have been times when we’ve felt so helpless being hours away from home when we know our families or friends needed us the most, and there are times when we know we have made a difference.
Just weeks from now we will leave. Just weeks from now we take down our pictures and pack up our clothes. No more going next door to do nothing for hours on end. We will leave our friends whose random emails and phone calls will bring us to laughter and tears this summer, and hopefully for years to come. We will take our memories and dreams and put them away for now, saving them for our return to the world.
Just weeks from now we will arrive. Just weeks from now we will unpack our bags and have dinner with our families. We will drive over to our best friend’s house to do nothing for hours on end. We will return to the same friends whose random emails and phone calls have brought us to laughter and tears over the year. We will unpack old dreams and memories that have been put away for the past year. In just weeks we will dig deep inside to find the strength and conviction to adjust to change and still keep each other close.
And somehow, in some way, we will find our place between these two worlds.” -Maren Jacobsen