Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Reflections of a High School Youth Ambassador - It's Okay to be Undecided

We were halfway through a college tour when the tour guide asked one of my best friends, "So what do you plan on majoring in?" When my friend admitted, as I have heard her do many times before, that she is in fact undecided, I held my breath for the tour guide's response. It was a breath of fresh air when he responded with, "That's okay; that's our most popular major!" To me and many of my peers, selecting a college major means choosing, at such a young age, exactly what we want to do with the rest of our lives. That can be quite intimidating; especially since, when you're a teenager, just selecting which movie to watch at the movie theater or choosing an outfit for the day can be a great struggle with indecisiveness. I am so used to hearing teachers, parents, and even guidance counselors emphasizing the importance of selecting a college major ASAP, that it's a relief to hear someone say that it is actually okay to be undecided.

In high school, students are still growing and figuring out who they are, what they like, and what they're good at; these things take time. When I was really young, I thought that I wanted to grow up and be a teacher. Now, my ambitions for the future are something completely different from that, and I wouldn't be surprised if I change my mind, yet again, before I begin college. Thankfully, many universities understand that and do not require students to select a major until their junior year. If colleges are so understanding, then why can't our teachers, parents, and guidance counselors be, as well?

I very strongly believe that high school students should be told that it's okay to be undecided on a major, rather than pressured into choosing one. I think that instead of expecting teens to know exactly what they want to do in the future, adults should encourage them to use their time in high school as a learning experience in itself and not just a time to plan out the future. For example, things like internships should increase in popularity amongst high school students, and should perhaps be encouraged more by guidance counselors, teachers, and parents. After all, it's hard for anyone to know how they really feel about something until they try it. Many students who enter college with a major already in mind often end up graduating with a completely different one, anyway. In college, where students have to pay for classes, this can be quite expensive. This makes high school an excellent time for students to be undecided, and therefore open-minded.

Djellza Ramadani

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reflections of a High School Youth Ambassador - What could be better than providing community service?

When students realize that impressive academics is only one characteristic of a well rounded and successful student, they begin to value learning experiences outside of the classroom, such as community service, much more. Community service is one thing that, as a High School Youth Ambassador, I have devoted much of my free time to.
I believe that the act of serving the community gives students like me a learning experience that is just as valuable, if not more, than a classroom learning experience. During the course of my high school years, I have participated in countless community service projects and have held positions of leadership on the advisory board of the Newseum (news history museum) in Washington, D.C. and the Youth Ambassadors UNICEF Club. I value community service greatly and can honestly say that the community service projects I have participated in have helped shape who I am today. I believe in the quote by Gandhi, "Be the change you want to see in the world," and have personally witnessed that with the right plan, a lot of hard work, and big hearts, even a few high school students can get together and make great things happen.

Some of my most cherished high school memories are actually those from community service events that my friends and I have participated in. Whether we were making ConKerr Cancer pillowcases to deliver to young cancer patients in local hospitals, fundraising to help alleviate the troubles of water shortages in less economically developed nations, or advocating against teen dating violence within our own community, we were always excited to participate, anxious to learn, and pleased to be making a difference.

Knowing that something I do, no matter how small it is, can benefit the life of someone else is what keeps me willing to continue participating in community service projects, yet, when volunteering, I not only get the satisfaction of helping others, but I am also able to learn more about myself (my skills and interests) and the world around me. One instance where community service has helped me become a more informed citizen is when the Youth Ambassadors UNICEF Club was advocating the importance of water and the affects of water scarcity in less economically developed nations.  In order to successfully advocate this, it was necessary for me to learn all about it; learning about how hard a basic necessity like water is to obtain for some people inspired me to conserve more water and stop taking it for granted. I have enjoyed participating in community service projects so much that I have even based my career plans for the future on it and am planning to continue to serve the community for as long as I can. Mother Theresa once said, "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples."

I am proud of all of the community service that I have done as a High School Youth Ambassador and am also proud to be a role model for younger students, such as my two little brothers. I am glad that they can learn, from me, the value and importance of community service, not only for the community, but for their personal enrichment as well.  I owe a lot to the school faculty and sponsors who were willing to devote their rare free time to guiding me and my peers through community service projects. None of it could be possible without them. Consequently, I believe that community service should be strongly encouraged in all schools, and am thankful for the community service opportunities that were given to me as a High School Youth Ambassador.    

Djellza Ramadani


Monday, July 15, 2013

Reflections of a High School Youth Ambassador - Pressure from Parents to Pursue a Certain Career Path, Not Good

Many students are very fortunate to have their parents involved in their academics. However, for some of them, this is both a blessing and a curse. I understand that parents want the best life possible for their children, but unfortunately, many of them, without even realizing it, mandate a career path for their child that the child may not have any interest in whatsoever. They do this rather than guiding the child to discover their own interests and select their own career path.

This is especially the case amongst many immigrant families where parents immigrated for the sole purpose of providing a better education, and hence a better life, for their children. This was the case for me. Growing up, I was pressured by my parents to excel in academics, which, I must admit, did result in me earning better grades. However, I always felt that there was something wrong with me because I liked reading and writing instead of math and science, which is what my parents wanted me to like. They pushed me to win science fairs and master my times table, which I was neither good at nor fond of. Before I was even ten years old, my parents had instilled in me that in order for me to be successful in life, I would have to grow up and become a doctor. They didn't care what kind of doctor, they didn't care how many years of school it would take, and most shockingly, they didn't care if that was what I wanted or not. It wasn't what I wanted.

During this time, I felt so trapped in school, and trapped within my own life. I pretended to be interested in things that I wasn't interested in, just to make my parents happy. I never shared with them the beautiful poems that I scribbled in my notebook on boring rainy days or the fairy-tales I wrote that my little brothers seemed to enjoy so much, for the fear that they would laugh in my face and tell me that I was wasting my time. My parents finally realized that I was not wasting my time when my grandmother called from Europe one day. She was in tears because of a poem that I had finally gathered enough bravery to write on a Mother's Day card for her. It was then that my parents saw just how much joy words on paper could bring to someone. From that day forward, I was never again ridiculed for preferring to read fairy-tales instead of my science book. I shared every story and every poem that I wrote with my parents, and I didn't have to pretend any longer. I was able to enjoy school more; I was no longer trapped. I greatly valued my parents guidance, but I think I valued their trust in my intuition even more.

I sometimes wonder how my life would be different if I were to pursue the career path that my parents want me to. I would have missed so many life changing opportunities such as enrolling into the International Baccalaureate Program, which is one of the best decisions I've ever made, or even joining Lyrical Storm, a poetry performing group. I honestly don't think I would be as happy or as confident in what I want to do in the future as I am today. Because of this, I find it particularly disturbing when I ask one of my peers what they want to be in the future, and they respond with "a doctor" or "a lawyer," and then when I ask them what makes them want to take that career path, they admit that it's because of their parents. There is an incredible amount of pressure on them to meet their parents irrational expectations, and I sympathize with them because I was once in that same situation. I find this so unfortunate because I feel that life is so short that everyone should live it doing a career that they enjoy. I believe that people should put more worth on their happiness than on their salary. The next Picasso may be somewhere getting ridiculed for pursuing his interest in art. The next Beethoven is probably being told that he is wasting his time on the piano. I strongly encourage parents in to guide their children to pursue a career that makes them happy and not just one that will pay well.

Djellza Ramadani

Monday, July 8, 2013

Reflections of a High School Youth Ambassador - Introductory Post

In Reach is so pleased to present the first of many posts capturing the thoughts of one of our most beloved students and summer intern, Djellza Ramadani (affectionately known as DJ), whom we have watched grow into a wonderful young lady since seventh grade. It is our hope that, if you work with students, you will continue to be inspired by her posts and, if you don't, that you will be encouraged to become a mentor, collaborate with a local program to participate as a speaker, for example, or make a financial contribution to one of the many committed community-based organizations like In Reach that work with students every day to prepare them for college, work and life. Enjoy!
Excited that it's almost over yet sad to see it ending. This is the emotional roller-coaster that many high school seniors will go through as their high school experience comes to an end. I am Djellza Ramadani: a proud Youth Ambassador and, you guessed it, a newly promoted senior in high school. I remember first claiming and rooting for my graduating class, "the class of 2014," back during my freshman year. At the time, my graduating year was no more than a number to me, and, like many of my classmates, I did not expect time to ever pass by as quickly as it has. Now, I realize that the year 2014 is right around the corner, and I've got to be ready for it.

Thankfully, my experience as a High School Youth Ambassador has provided me with a college-ready mindset. I can honestly say that I am emotionally prepared to conquer my final year of high school and also successfully plan out a path toward achieving a secondary education. To get the most out of my high school classes, as well as to challenge myself, I enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Program at my school (Parkdale High). The incredible abundance of assignments and pressure to excel in them encouraged me to make my schoolwork my ultimate priority, which is fortunate since colleges take academics into great consideration when admitting students. However, this was not enough for me; I wanted to do more and experience more. Although my commitment to my academics made it difficult for me to participate in many extra curricular activities, I knew that the Youth Ambassadors program would be worth it, since it would enable me to broaden my horizons, learn things I can not learn in my school textbooks, and ultimately become a more well-rounded person.

Participating in the Youth Ambassadors program also gave me a sense of self-satisfaction since, as a Youth Ambassador, I was given the opportunity to not only help others through community service, which was very important to me, but also to get to know myself better. I was able to realize where my strengths lie as well as develop new skills in areas that interest me. Because of everything that I have accomplished as a Youth Ambassador, I can confidently claim that I want to pursue a career in public relations/journalism in the future. I would like to be the voice of one of the non-profit organizations that I was introduced to in the program, such as UNICEF, for example. I realize that the future is truly in the hands of my peers and me, and we've got to make it as great as we can.

I know that I have a long way to go before I can have my dream career. However, I can now better understand the steps I have to take to get there. Coming to this understanding was a journey of its own, and my next journey will be taking my final steps as a high school student. It would be my pleasure to share this experience with you. The world around us continues to change, but one thing remains the same: everything must be done one step at a time.