TEDxUMassAmherst 2014

What is there even to say? It’s impossible to describe to anyone who wasn’t there. My entire senior year has been spent building up to this one day and now that it is over I am truly speechless. I feel so blessed to have been chosen to embark on this mission with these 35 AMAZING, brilliant, sincere people that will now be forever friends.  I don’t even think I’ve had 35 friends total over the course of my 22 years and now I have 35 entirely new ones which is just bizarre to think about.

The day began INSANELY early and for any of you who know me, you would think I would have been miserable.  However, the SECOND that 4:15am alarm went off, my feet hit the ground and didn’t stop moving until about…5 minutes ago.  I did not feel one minute of exhaustion because I was surrounded by such incredible energy.  The speakers were all SO incredible but I had the pleasure of forming a special bond with two in particular. I’d pretty much been on cloud nine since the night before when I first met Kaitlin Roig, hero of Sandy Hook Elementary School for the first time.  Besides being absolutely gorgeous, she is one of the most modest and down to earth people I’ve ever met.  She offered me her flip flops last night when I broke mine, and then proceeded to ask if she could help set up for the event that SHE was speaking at! Just an all around amazing person. As for inspiration?  She’s top three, no doubt.  Ever since her talk, her words have been resonating in my head. “Outlook determines how you react, or not, to every situation in your life.” She was faced head on with sheer tragedy and the way she reacted to it is simply incredible.  She told me that she needed a way to get out of bed in the morning after the shooting.  She decided at that moment that she refused to let that angry young man define her, her students, or their control over their lives. She saved 15 lives that fateful day.  She then told me she doesn’t think of herself as a hero. Unbelievable. Let me tell ya, I was a hot mess after that talk and I know I was not the only one!

Derrick Gordon.  We all know the name but due to his shy personality, few of us really know the man behind the #BeTrue t-shirt and contagious smile.  This was his first public speech since his life changed forever, and it will undoubtedly not be his last.  We had ONE week to prepare for this and I can honestly say that working side by side with him day after day was more beneficial for me than it was for him.  I admire his courage, his honesty, and his confidence.  Keep this name in your head people because this kid is going places FAST and I can not wait to watch him grow as he embraces his true self.  Not gunna act like I didn’t shed a tear or two during his talk as well.  At the end of the day, I am truly blessed to call Derrick and Kaitlin my friends – something I would never be able to say if it weren’t for TEDxUMassAmherst.

My team? I can’t explain them to you. There are so many dimensions.  So many layers, personalities, cultures, and talents.  Where else can you find artists, tech specialists, writing geniuses, photographers, videographers, musicians, and so much more all in one close knit group?  Close knit may even be an understatement.  These people are family.  I can no longer imagine what life was like before them and I hope I never have to!  It’s mind-blowing that I can call these pure geniuses some of my now best friends.  They truly are so, so special.

To anyone who attended the event, I hope you had an amazing experience.  To quote my beautiful teammate Hailey:

 “If TEDxUMassAmherst is responsible for starting even one meaningful or interesting conversation, it will have all been worth it.”

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#UMassUnited

I was proud of UMass when they switched to wireless internet.  I was proud of UMass when they brought the Goo Goo Dolls for Spring Concert.  I was proud of UMass when the basketball team made the NCAA tournament.  But I have NEVER been as proud of UMass as I am today.

In my opinion, family isn’t only about blood.  Family is about unconditional support.  Derrick Gordon is a member of the UMass family, and today we showed an amazing display of support for not only Derrick, but the entire LGBTQ community.  The crowd grew from tens to hundreds to thousands and (get ready to be shocked, world), there was not one act of violence or unruly behavior.  Of course, something like this will never get as much attention as a crowd that involved riot police, but if you ask me, it doesn’t matter.  I don’t need or expect the rest of the country to feel what we felt today.  

The chills were insatiable.  Hearing thousands of students join together in singing “Where is the Love” and chants about how discrimination and inequality are not welcome here brought on a feeling that I’m not sure I even have a word for.  Directly in front of me was a family that consisted of two mothers and three small children.  Each child had their own homemade sign proclaiming “Gay is Okay” “LOVE” and “We Love Our Moms”.  You just can’t beat that.  It’s impossible to fear for the future when these children, no more than 8 years old, are already so far ahead of our generation and those older than us.

At the end of the rally, I made the trip down to see these monsters that call themselves a church.  Well, let’s just say they were a bit outnumbered.  Each of the five of them that showed up looked extremely uncomfortable as they tried to hold about 4 signs each about how America is doomed and other things that I won’t even repeat.  They were shouting, but I couldn’t hear a word they said.  Their hateful protest was drowned out by the other students who stood, brightly colored, in support of this family.  They wanted us to be outraged, to react violently. We didn’t give them what they wanted.  After about a half an hour they gave up.  Call me crazy, but I don’t think they’ll be back.

I’ve never been so proud to call myself a Minuteman.  Today, we showed the Westboro Baptist Church and anyone else who shares their ignorant mindset that we are not a family to be messed with.  Hate is simply not welcome here.  Go UMass.

 

Boston: One Year Later

It’s been one year…

It’s been one year since those cowards took something so precious to us and tainted it.

It’s been one year since that day once filled with happiness and support was torn apart and replaced with tears, desperation, hurt, and fear.

It’s been one year since so many innocent people were left scarred, handicapped, or worse.

It’s been one year since first responders and ordinary bystanders sprung to action – seeing things that no person should ever have to see.

It’s been one year since I’ve stood comfortably in a large crowd without scanning the people around me.

It’s been one year since millions of people sat, helpless, in front of their televisions praying for an answer.

It’s been one year since any of us have walked or driven down Boylston St. without the chills setting in.

It’s been nearly one year since the terrifying night when Boston’s finest went on pursuit of the last coward standing.

It’s been one year since hate came into our city.

It’s been one year…

It’s been one year since Boston changed forever.

It’s been one year since any of us have walked through the city without seeing a Boston Strong t-shirt.

It’s been one year since our city began to recognize our first responders as they deserve to be recognized.

It’s been one year since blue and yellow became honorary Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, and Patriots colors.

It’s been one year since we learned the names of the innocent people who were injured, as well as the names of their heroes.

It’s been one year since the city gained four new angels. 

It’s been one year since countless runs were organized in honor of those who didn’t have the chance to finish the race.

It’s been one year since the nation raised over $61 million to help the victims of this tragedy.

It’s been one year since the Red Sox rallied for a city in need of a reason to celebrate.

It’s been one year since we all rallied to bring Boston back to the perfect state of grace.

It’s been one year since hate was driven out of our city by love.

It’s been one year since Boston ran. And on April 21st, we will run again.

One year bigger. One year stronger.

“You showed us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion. In the face of those who would visit death upon innocents, we will choose to save and to comfort and to heal. We’ll choose friendship. We’ll choose love.”  – Barack Obama