Class Essayist: Alex Rego

Alexandra Rego, the class essayist, told her classmates "it's in our power to celebrate the good." — Jeremy Driesen

Hey, guys. 

I’d just like to preface this by mentioning that you are listening to what is perhaps the fifth iteration of this speech. This speech first celebrated spontaneity, then community, and now? Life’s silver linings. So yes, I settled on what has maybe been the most cliché theme of the past months, but crazy “Corona World” or not, I would have ended up delivering this same speech. 

So, my close friends know that I have this terrible luck when it comes to travel. Like, seriously terrible. And they’ve probably heard about this one time that I got hospitalized for a parasite infection in Peru. 

For those unfamiliar with the story, I got this phantom illness on the top of Machu Picchu (I mean, of course!). This quickly turned into me vomiting all over a dining table in a train car full of disgusted onlookers, and then became me sprawled half-conscious on the train’s bathroom floor. Next thing I know, I’m knocked out in the back of a taxi, and soon after, I’m hooked up to all sorts of IVs and antibiotics in a hospital bed. 

So now I’m lying in the bed wondering how the hell this all happened. And I remember making a decision; on one hand, I could succumb to the glaringly obvious. I could ruminate over the whirlwind of a shitshow I had found myself in. I could allow myself to feel the anxiety, the humiliation, and the anger that one might expect to feel in such a situation. But on the other hand, I could choose to turn my attention elsewhere. And I chose the latter. I chose to crack some jokes in broken Spanish with my doctors. I chose to bond with the woman who had taken me to the hospital over our favorite folk musicians, cultures, and languages. I chose to talk conspiracy theories with my taxi driver on the way back from the clinic. And this decision –– or the parasite, rather –– happened to be perhaps the most influential teacher I’ve ever had. 

So, as I prefaced, I’m here today to talk about that obnoxious theme that you’re probably sick of hearing. No, not “these unprecedented times,” not “the new normal,” not “adversity.” Even worse: positivity, the dreaded p-word. 

But I’m not going to ask you to be blindly optimistic, and I’m not asking you to plaster a fake smile on your face if it’s not real. I mean, it’s not my place to ask you anything. But I’m willing to make a bet: Not a single person here wants to lay on their deathbed stewing in their life’s regrets (I’d like to hope I’m not wrong on that one). And the secret to avoiding this? Acknowledging those silver linings. Think about it (and I apologize for any painfully cliché languaging here): Maybe that one break in the clouds is an opportunity for growth, for learning, 

an unexpected friendship, or kindness … Viewing every event –– the good, but especially the bad –– as a teacher, that’s how we hack the system. Now you’ve won. You’ve won because every circumstance you find yourself in, it all has meaning, it all propels you forward. Looking at the world through this lens, you always have something to gain. So yeah, me being stupid enough to brush my teeth in unsanitary water, and the consequences for it? I wouldn’t change a thing. 

So let’s shift the spotlight here. The world we’ve grown up in has been preaching lots of doom and gloom. But let’s not forget; in our teenage years, we’ve sent the Curiosity rover to Mars, we’ve eradicated diseases, and we’ve legalized same-sex marriage. We rescued dogs at the Sochi Olympics, dumped buckets of ice water on our heads to fight ALS, ended decades-long wars, witnessed the historic Paris climate agreement, and brought back and saved species from extinction. We celebrated diversity in Hollywood with record-breaking films such as “Black Panther,” and celebrated diversity in politics with the introduction of the most diverse U.S. Congress of all time. We were inspired by the brave divers who saved a boys’ soccer team from a collapsed cave in Thailand, and exercised pure democracy as we marched in international movements on behalf of women, the environment, black lives, and victims of gun violence. And with the majority of human beings now having access to the internet, we are more connected than ever before. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

There are problems, sure. We can’t deny that. But it’s entirely in our power to celebrate the good. It’s entirely in our power to lead a life of no regrets. 

Changing the narrative –– that’s in our hands now. Changing your narrative –– that’s in your hands. 

Class of 2020, thank you, it’s been a wild ride.