Friday, March 27, 2009

Celebrating Eldest's Achievement

Eldest, my daughter, has been selected to receive a 2009 Student of Achievement Award, sponsored by the Montana State University Women’s Center and honors "students who have made outstanding contributions to their community". Yesterday was the reception, and I sure wish I could have been there, beaming with pride over this lovely young woman I gave birth to nearly 22 years ago!

The professor who nominated her, describes her as "strong, outgoing and caring deeply about the world and where it is going."

Here are some excerpts of Eldest's own words from the essay she was asked to write about herself. What I especially admire (and I think the committee must have felt similarly) is her honesty and realism.

When I was young, I did not really think about how I would impact the greater world. My vision of the future was that I would probably end up a lot like my mom and dad... and thought that with my extreme genius, I would single-handedly save the planet. When I started college, I discovered that I was no genius, and had to work in order to achieve limited success... My saving-the-planet-as-an-engineer goal morphed into being part of saving humanity and I joined Engineers Without Borders.

As my workload increased, my own personal life fell to pieces. I destroyed a few relationships, rarely saw the few friends who still put up with me, was diagnosed with depression and an eating disorder, and saw my GPA suffer. The harder I struggled to regain control of my life, the worse it seemed to get. I finally accepted that I was no superwoman, learned to work with and even celebrate my shortcomings, and allowed my expectations of myself to be more flexible. I also took a good, hard look at my priorities, including school, myself, family, friends, and the rest of the world.I realized that attempts to save the world were a moot point if I could not even maintain healthy relationships and take care of myself. My new save-the-world goal was downsized to the simple but powerful,“I want to be a good person."

After I changed my approach to life and grew up some more, I started taking better care of myself, became more effective in school, and actually became a contributing, beneficial member in the relationships I was able to salvage. Today, I focus on the small effects of my day-to-day life on the world, and even if I cannot afford to drive a Prius and buy local and organic, I can pick up litter on my way home, be lest wasteful, lend an ear to a troubled soul, be a fiercely devoted friend, and offer strength for those who feel lost. My vision of the future is to continue in this path, with daily choices for responsibility, kindness, strength, empathy, honesty, and integrity. In order to meet my one simple goal, the work I do must be meaningful beyond just my employer. I will judge the quality of my work not just by my job description, but its impact on the world. For instance, I cannot single-handedly stop oil production or urban sprawl, but the difference between myself and someone who doesn’t care doing the same job for such “evil empires” will be the context of the greater effectiveness of our work. Our methods or designs will both be effective for the need at hand, but I will do my best to make sure that my work is effective on a larger scale too- environmentally, socially, and culturally.


PattyP said...

She's what every parent dreams about! Congrats!

honeypiehorse said...

Wow, maybe there's something to that German parenting methodology. ;-) Congratulations to you both, what a great girl.

Megatonlove said...

This well-deserved award lends credence to the family environment and the values with which she was raised.

Congratulations, Eldest, and bravo to her parents too!

Kitchen Sister said...

awww shucks! My mom is and always has been an amazing parent. I hope I'm a lot like her if I ever procreate (and I hope my kids are not quite the pickle that I was at times as a teenager). So here's a new life lesson I'm adopting in my quest to be a good person, and would love to share with anyone willing to listen:
Don't underestimate the your power to make someone's day.

Last semester, a classmate/friend of mine got into a really bad accident, he was in a coma, there was brain swelling, amnesia and brain damage seemed likely, doctors and family were worried. Even though I hadn't had a real conversation with the guy for at least a year and I didn't know if he'd remember me even without brain damage, I sent him a funny get well card that said something along the lines of, "Hey, I'm so sorry you're stuck in the hospital right now. I hope you make a full recovery in record time. In the meantime though, I suppose you've got to make the best of it. I hope you get the tastiest jello and the hottest nurses. I miss your laugh in the engineering building, maybe the good ol' buttless hospital gowns will get your laugh throughout the hospital."

He did indeed make a miraculous recovery in less than half the expected time. Last night he came to a joint-birthday party two friends and I held. He told me it was one of the few cards he'd gotten from kids at MSU, it meant a lot to get it, and it helped cheer him up as he was getting better. Then he told me some good hospital gown stories. A card that took me minutes to pick out, write, and send; a card that I didn't even know if he'd be able to read or understand; a card I expected would be buried in huge piles from other well-wishers; that card stayed in his memory and made a difficult time is his life a tiny bit brighter. I did that. You can too. Don't underestimate your power to make someone's day.

Later, as I was walking (tottering) home with some friends, they shared that the only correspondence they had received from friends during their student exchanges abroad was from each other, and how much it meant to them. While all of us naively assumed they were busy and having the time of their life, they occasionally felt lonely, homesick, and entirely out-of-place. Their little letters to each other meant a great deal.