By Ravina Wadhwani '16 of the Westfield Capital Management team with Mildred Avenue K-8 School
Not too long ago, a friend of mine asked me what my biggest gain from service this year has been. Not knowing where to start, I simply told her that the beauty of this year is thinking about growth. There we were on day one--white shirts, navy pants, a big red book in hand, a sea of random strangers we never met before, a group of Team Leaders on the stairs of Southie, cheering and chanting about things like PB and j and mac n cheese, and looking way too excited to see us that early in the morning. Try and remember the first person you ever met in this corps. Think about how little you may have had in common with this person. Now, consider how much you’ve gained since that day—chances are, they too have done the same. They share this experience of working with their own students, and gaining so many rewards.
What makes me proud to be part of this community is that we are tied together by our dedication and we have made it through this entire year as a united corps, without giving up on our future leaders. How beautiful is it that we have been privileged to be important parts of our students’ formative years? Whether you believe it or not, we have all played unique roles in influencing them in little and big ways.
I’d like to give you all a little snapshot of my own journey. It was about two months into my service when a dear 5th-grader was absent from class for about a week and a half. I had felt her absence pull at my heart strings. I missed her laugh, her sunny presence, her wit, humor, and the way she pushed past adversity with quick sarcasm and never leaving the room without telling me, “Ms. Wadhwani, I love you.” Eventually, she recovered from her illness and returned back to school, and I had begun to notice how discouraged she was. Her work ethic was crumbling, her attitude was becoming poorer and poorer, and a certain meanness arose from within her towards her peers. I felt like our connection was withering as she was only preoccupied with not falling behind her peers.
Our students are more than numbers and data—they were the reason as to why we rose at 5:30 a.m. every day. I knew that my students had my back just as much as I had theirs, and that made our human connection even stronger.
I began to feel stifled and stuck and the days were only getting longer. But I knew I had to use my own methods, personal attention, and lots of healing to bring my student back to the belief that she could indeed get back on track. Through genuine conversations before, during, and afterschool, about her interests and curiosities, a level of trust was established, and growth was easy to be seen. She began getting 100s on her homework, and even reached the “math wall of fame” She became less afraid to ask me questions, and sought out advice about tough social situations. I will never forget the day she became “Miss C” and taught myself and my team leader new math strategies. Her bold personality and humor has won the hearts of our team, and I have no doubt that her confidence will help her reach her goal of one day becoming a doctor.
Our students are more than numbers and data—they were the reason as to why we rose at 5:30 am every day. I knew that my students had my back just as much as I had theirs, and that made our human connection even stronger.
This journey is hard to understand for those who are not walked in our shoes. This year has taken an emotional, mental and physical toll on many of us. Often, we don’t talk about balancing service with family matters, losses, mental health, financial struggles, and more. I feel like these experiences should be validated today, and we stand in unity in acknowledging all of the strength it takes to perform throughout this year.
We have made it, and we have made a difference. We will keep thriving. Every single corps member in this auditorium is here today because we are warriors, and extremely passionate role models.
To my fellow men and women of color, who reflect the beautiful shades of black and brown of the students we serve, this year may have brought us experiences that were unwanted, misunderstood, or simply inexplicable to those who do not share this facet of our intersectional identities. We have made it, and we have made a difference. We will keep thriving. Every single corps member in this auditorium is here today because we are warriors, and extremely passionate role models. Wherever your path will take you—congratulations!
Let us never forget our fabulous supporters, mentors, and role models who have shaped you in some way. Whether it was an honest conversation with someone at headquarters, or our affinity group leaders, we have had this amazing group of individuals around us. To the families and friends joining us today—thank you for the love and care that helped us stay strong, regardless of whether or not you understood what service was- that endless, constant support means the world to us. To the amazing school partners who were alongside us every step of the way: thank you. Becoming part of your communities has been incredibly humbling. And a special shout out to Ms. Jolan Williams—my partner teacher at the Mildred who actually served as a corps member herself, and who you heard from at Red Jacket Weekend—I am so thankful for your phenomenal exemplary leadership! To our champions and team sponsors: we deeply appreciate your support, which helps us make sure every student who would benefit from a corps member’s care has one.
Finally, thank you to our Impact Managers and Team Leaders who have cheered us on and who have been there through it all. I would like to especially thank, from the bottom of my heart, Mark Pierce, Andrew Dwyer, and Gene’a Mitchell, who have tirelessly lifted us up since day one.
To my teammates at the Mildred Avenue K-8 school, I sincerely believe that I have spent more time with this group of people than any other group ever. I don’t think I can capture my feelings in words. I will truly miss having every single one of you as my support system day in and day out.
We must leave with a mindset that this service extends beyond this year and that there is always work that needs to be done...we are part of a national movement.
As corps members, we can, and have, been important parts of creating a ripple effect. Our red jackets hold resilience, and we all push forward the social justice mission that CY stands for. Regardless of what our identities are, we have all tried to navigate what it means to be a role model, mentor and tutor. What I can say, is that there is immense power in young people serving other young people. We must leave with a mindset that this service extends beyond this year and that there is always work that needs to be done. Let that idea keep us moving forward.
Often we overlook the fact that we are part of a national movement. My hope is that we continue to strive upwards, and push our young people to break barriers of stigma and past what society tells them they cannot do especially as youth of color living in a world where walking down the streets is a question of survival for many of them. Where their race is subjected to too many hashtags, and not enough recognition for their tremendous accomplishments. There are people out there in our communities telling our students that if they don’t pull it together, they will be destined for nothing. Let us be those individuals who take those thoughts out of students’ heads, and crumble them in the palms of our hands. Let us engrain within them a mindset that success is achievable as long as they set their mind to it. Now imagine that action on a nation-wide scale. After all, we share an experience with 25,000 alumni. It is quite incredible indeed.
It is now our duty to keep this flame of idealism burning, and to encourage young people to stand for what they believe in.
As my fearless and fabulous team leader once said, “This year is what you make of it. Make it your own.” I hope that this year has been your own and that together, going forward we see ourselves as agents of positivity, empowerment, and powerful leadership. May we take a little bit from each and every one of our students, teammates and mentors, and use that insight to be strong allies, family members, friends, role models, and most importantly human beings. Lastly, I’d like to recognize one final PITW. Here is PITW # 179 “Become your message” It is now our duty to keep this flame of idealism burning, and to encourage young people to stand for what they believe in, and to continue the vital conversations. To stand up for their education, their rights, for their community, for BlackLivesMatter, to create movements, to know purpose, to stand for a cause and to stand up for themselves. We must encourage them to become their own message and to believe in themselves, just like we have believed in them all year long.