What has been one of the most challenging things you’ve experienced or are currently experiencing?
“I happen to think that, currently, it would be that it’s really hard to figure out who I am as a person, where I fit in, and what my mission in life would be. Recently with school, what I want to focus on in school, it’s definitely been pretty challenging going throughout school, going in with kind of an idea, and then realizing it’s not really what I want to get into, and then it’s kind of, ‘Oh well, I’m kinda interested in that,’ then after a while you realize, ‘Oh, I don’t really want that.’ So, definitely trying to figure out who I am and where I fit into the whole grand scheme of life. I am ambitious and I do want to do big things, but I feel like I need to find my outlet to do that.”
What are some of the outlets that you’ve explored and have found that you’re interested in, or something that you’re not interested in?
“I definitely feel like things that I’m interested in are definitely service trips and helping other people, and realizing that not only can I gain so much from these trips, but I can help communities and help the general lives of people you’re around when you serve others, you know, and definitely trips like the mission trip I’ve been on to Kentucky, for the alternative spring break at school, that I work for. I realize that when you volunteer your time and you can see other people learning from their experiences while they volunteer, and see the communities just be so impacted by something as small as putting up a wall in their house, or painting their rooms, or something, you realize that actions speak louder than words. And when you go to these places you’re not only putting up a wall, but you’re also putting hope into their perspectives, and saying there are people out there who will step out of where they are from and do something good for someone else. I realize what I like to do is try to find good in things and if it’s something that I’m not necessarily comfortable with, I kinda like that because it’s almost a challenge to myself to either judge it, and be like, ‘You know, maybe this isn’t the best situation to be in,’ or try to learn from it. So, I’m definitely a person who likes to try to find the good in something before I turn away from it.”
What were you passionate about as a child? Was there anything that really stuck out that made you feel alive, happy, and connected?
“When I was younger—as a child—I was very quiet. I did have friends, but I didn’t have many, and I was a very reserved person. I realized that observing other people talk and stuff—I was so nervous and so afraid of everyone, that I wouldn’t reach out and say anything. And people wouldn’t even talk to me or anything. But after a while I realized that I never really put myself in those situations where I could step out of my comfort zone. I just observed it. But I realized after a while that, once you try something new, there’s always a risk, and you can always take that risk and see how it goes, and then if it’s not for you, do something different. I realize that with a lot of risks I’ve taken, that different things, mission trips, studying in Mexico, I realize those have been beneficial. And there have been other things lately, too. I was pledging at a fraternity at school for a while. In the beginning I was so hyped for it, and I got myself really excited for it, but then I remember going through the pledging process, and after I did it for about a week, I realized that, ‘This isn’t me. This isn’t who I wanted to be.’ I mean as much as they talk about all of the stuff that they do for pledging—and some of it is true—there is some hazing—but the biggest thing I realized from that was I didn’t want to be like everyone else. When you join a fraternity you’re living up to the expectations of all the other people, but they’re all kind of the same people.
“After a while, at one point during the pledging process, I realized that I just wasn’t getting it, and my pledge master stopped me and said, ‘Alex, do you want this?’ After a while, I was just like, ‘No, no, I really don’t,’ and I walked out. I mean, there was more conversation after that, but it was just more like, ‘I’ve thought about it a lot, and I realize that this isn’t me. It’s not who I am.’ I have nothing against people who want to join and pledge fraternities and sororities, but for me, I kinda like being me and not necessarily going into those situations, looking at people around me, and—you know—‘I don’t work for this,’ and question why I’m working for it and. . . . It just wasn’t my scene.”
Why do you think that you were afraid to put yourself out there as a child, and perhaps, even now as a young adult?
“I think, definitely, when I was younger ,where I grew up in Durham, there was very little diversity, and for someone like—I even remember when I was doing the CMTs, when I was really young ,I remember filling out all the information, where you put your name and stuff, and I remember looking at the race column, and I was like—the thing is, I knew I was from Colombia, but at that point I didn’t necessarily know where that was or anything, or what that meant, so I remember and I was just like, ‘Oh, I know I’m not white, so what should I put?’ I remember that I actually put black. Looking back, after that I was like, ‘Wow.’ I wasn’t sure who I was, but the only thing I was really sure of was that I wasn’t racially like everyone else. I still laugh at that; it’s kinda funny. So, now it’s also kind of my journey, figuring out who I am, and my origins. Since I’m adopted, I have realized it’s a little harder for me, but it’s definitely a journey that I’d like to pursue.”
How old were you when you found out that you were adopted? Did you know growing up as a child, or did your parents wait to tell you until you were a teenager?
“I feel like I’ve always known, because I’m a lot darker than my parents. It’s kinda like one of those situations in Kung Fu Panda Two, where the panda finds out he’s adopted, but then he realizes that his dad is a goose. Kinda like that. That’s the way I like to put it. But I’ve always known, and the good thing that I really like about how my parents would talk about it is that it was never weird to talk about. It was always there. It was never like, under quiet voices, or anything. It was like, ‘You’re adopted. This is where you’re from. It doesn’t matter. We love you.’ So, it was definitely that kind of situation.”
Was it hard for you in school, being a quiet kid, to make friends? Were you picked on? Were you bullied at all?
“Looking back at it, I wasn’t really bullied. I was just scared of being bullied, but in the end I wasn’t really ever bullied. After a while, I realized that I need to get myself out there and try new things. All of the new things I did definitely shaped who I am today. I made some of the best friends and learned about other people and other cultures.”
What are some of the scary things you did that brought you out of your comfort zone?
“Freshman year of high school, I did cross-country, and that was a big thing for me, because it’s like—in eighth grade we did cross-country—but it wasn’t like—it wasn’t a big sport. To a middle schooler, the high school sports are like, ‘Oh my God. They’re athletic. They’re like Olympians or something.’ To me, I remember going into freshman year feeling so happy about—feeling like cross-country—because we started the practices really early in summer, end of August, and we had a full month of practices. I remember the first day of high school everyone was so scared, but I remember walking down the hall and seeing one of the kids who were in cross-country and he said, ‘Oh, hey Alex,’ and I said, ‘That’s so cool. I know someone.’ It was a really neat experience for me, to go into high school where everyone else is scared and I’m like, ‘No, I got it. I got it.’ But, definitely, things like that, and also, I did a mission trip to Kentucky that was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. A friend said, ‘You should go here,’ and I thought, ‘You know what—why not?’ That was a big emotional trip. I’ve continued to go on trips even until now, and it was realizing that like this trip really forced you in a way to communicate with others, but it also gave you the platform to really know others by expressing yourself.
“We’d have big prayers that would go along with the whole group. Sometimes we’d have thirty people. Sometimes we’d have sixty people. They were the most meaningful things, because people would just share their lives. There was always a question involved, but it was kinda like a very open-ended question. We’d go around and just hear about these people. Based on the way they’d act, and based on the way they presented themselves, you wouldn’t be able to see that, but then hearing that like, ‘Wow. There is so much around me. There’s so much.’ There are so many people that kinda put on this act, but you realize that inside they’re emotional, and you just want to be friends with them in a way. You want to help them along on their way, but also there are people you want to know.”
What have you learned throughout this journey of trying to find yourself and exploring some these different outlets?
“I’ve learned it’s going to take a while, but I kinda like that. It doesn’t even bother me. I remember I would always describe the whole adoption process as—it’s like if you look at your life as a puzzle, and all the puzzle pieces, each big thing, each new development, is kinda like a new piece to the puzzle. For me, it’s like the first pieces were missing. I didn’t know where I was from, or any of that. I realized that after a while, and I would just focus on that so much. When I finally got the means to go to Colombia and find my birth parents, I put those pieces down, but then I realized, ‘Oh wow, now what?’ It kinda forced me to move forward and look into things, but it also made me realize, it’s a journey that I feel like I don’t really want to end. I don’t want to settle down and then do something—the same thing every day. For instance, right now, I’m working at a credit union in the lending department, and I don’t mind the job or anything, but I mind the concept of going in and doing the same thing every day. It’s cool that I have a cubicle, but that’s about it. It’s just routine. I don’t really like the routine.”
What are some of the good things that have come out of going through these experiences with being adopted, finding out who you are, finding out where you’re from, making some of those connections, and exploring some of the outlets that you may feel comfortable with pursuing?
“Some of the good things definitely are—it’s kinda like when you get to look back—when you go into a different situation, or you travel or something, you appreciate what you have at home, and you get to experience different people, and experience completely different situations. I remember the first time I went to Mexico, it was the coolest thing, just seeing everyone. They’re all living in this city and it’s just like—it’s kinda like the United States, but it’s so different, and their attitudes towards everything—they’re just so chill, more laid back. I remember us Americans would go, ‘Oh, we’ll be here at five o’clock,’ and they’d come at 5:45, but they’d be like, ‘Oh, hey,’ and they wouldn’t even apologize. It was just the way they were. I went to Costa Rica a few months ago on a trip to help out the community, and their whole philosophy there is like, ‘Pura Vida.’ It means, ‘Pure Life,’ but it’s kinda like to them—their whole mantra is like ‘Whatever happens, happens,’ but it’s in a good way. It’s like, ‘Whatever.’ Costa Rica itself—they don’t even have an army. They have universal healthcare. Everyone is so nice and friendly, and it’s just that whole the ideology of Costa Rica, to me at least, was that people are just being, and they’re not really against anyone. They’re just helping each other out. It’s definitely like—I just like seeing those experiences—just relating to it—but also being like, ‘Wow. That’s definitely cool,’ and, ‘That’s definitely something I want to incorporate in my life.’ It’s gonna be hard, but I guess nothing in this world that’s worth having comes easy. That’s what I like about traveling and seeing other people, and meeting new people, it’s realizing we’re all the same people inside, but different situations, and different environments just change people. I understand why and how I can, maybe, benefit from knowing about someone else, and how it could benefit someone else by just listening, and hearing what they have to say.”
You mentioned that we are all the same on the inside. What do you think creates this sense of separation then?
“I think a lot of it has to do with the outside world, the environment, where they come from, what the custom is for their family life—I definitely think that’s a big thing—their social life, their relationships—where they grew up in the country, or where they’ve grown up—even in town. There’s always a label, but behind that label there is a history, and that changes things all the time—that’s what I like about it. Also, something that I like to live by too is, ‘You can’t change the world, but you can change people’s worlds.’ I really like that perspective. I feel like the world is this huge thing that’s just going around and spinning every day, but there’s only one world, and that’s your own world—for everyone. And by doing small things, or even bigger things, you can change someone else’s world. In the end I feel that’s so much more than just the world itself. You’re changing a life.”
What do you think are some of the small or big ways that you could change somebody’s world?
“Just saying, ‘Hi.’ In the morning, when I go to my cubicle life at the credit union, I don’t—I like messing around with people—like with paper airplanes and stuff. I feel like, in a way, you can get so involved in little things and think things like, ‘Oh, wow, this person,’ or, ‘Oh, we can’t find his file,’ and you get really stressed about it. Then, a little thing like getting a little paper airplane over the cubicle can change it. It’s a stupid little thing, but it’s just coming into your life, distracting you from, maybe, what isn’t necessarily worth getting so worked up over. I used to work at a restaurant and I was always nervous about things, because you get these tickets, and then you had like fifteen tickets lined up and you’d get so crazy about that. I remember one time, when one of the servers—I don’t even know if they put mayo on it—but they didn’t put mayo on the ticket, and they were expecting it. So I went down, and she literally yelled, ‘Alex, what the hell! Where’s the mayo?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know. I’ll go grab it. It’s right upstairs.’ She was like, ‘What? I thought I put it on the ticket!’ I’m like, ‘What?’
“I remember the way I felt after that. It was like, ‘Oh my God! Wow! She’s really mad at me. What is it?’ Then I went up and got the mayo, gave it to her, and she was like, ‘We don’t even need it now.’ She was so pissed. I remember at that point, I was so aggravated at that. But when I stepped out of the situation, I’m just like, ‘You know, why would I let a little thing of mayo ruin everything? It’s not worth it.’ I’m sure if I even went to that girl right now—I still know her—and said, ‘Hey, remember that mayo thing?,’ she’d go, ‘Wait, what?’ It’s just little things like that. That’s more of a negative thing, but I also realize there are always good and bad things. But the difference between an accident and surprise is how you look at it. I feel that’s what I have—how I like to live my life—it’s the perspective you take. You might think you know someone, but then you’ll be living with someone and you think you know them, then you live with them, and you’re like, ‘Oh.’ I’ve had good experiences with that, but it just adds more depth to it.”
So in theory, we don’t necessarily know the people we pass by on the street, at work, or interact with in our daily routines, or what’s going on in their lives unless we . . .
“We talk to them.”
Yes, talk to them, and learn about them.
“But, I also feel like even I will be like, ‘Oh, I’m so much better than everyone.’”
What do you mean?
“I just look at people and think, ‘Oh my God! Look at that person’s hair. It’s all blue.’ That is a judgment. But everyone judges. It’s also realizing that you can put something bad into that judgment, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being like, ‘Oh, that girl’s wearing a pink shirt.’ But I think if you’re thinking, ‘Wow! That girl’s wearing a pink shirt! Why would she do that?’ I feel like that’s also a perspective thing. You can observe, but then you can also make your own opinion. I think that, like I was saying before, I’d rather observe, and then see how things go. Then, maybe, if I can see that person’s having a bad day, maybe try to make them feel better, but I’m never going be like, ‘Oh my God! Look! That person just threw that down, and I’m not going to talk to them because of that.’ For me, as a person, I’m more like, ‘I want to know why. Why did that happen?’ Sometimes you’re going to have people you just can’t help, and that’s just the way it is. But in the end, I feel like the only person you can really help is yourself, but it doesn’t mean that outside people can’t make a huge impact on you.”
Is it possible that you can help others by helping yourself, by setting an example?
“Yeah. Definitely. I was talking to a friend about it a few weeks ago. If you’re doing everything you can to be the best you can be, then I think that also counts for everyone around you, because you’re setting an example, but you’re also showing them, ‘I don’t let anyone else really judge me or anything,’ but it’s just more of the idea that, ‘I’m being me, and I’m happy with being me.’ Everyone else, or anyone else you really want to be around, in the end, will be around you, once you do that. You can’t be all wrong if you’re trying to help yourself. I feel like a lot of times, people look at themselves and their fears or their insecurities. That’s when they get hostile towards others—they’re just trying to protect something. But once you find someone who’s directed towards something, who has a real goal, and it’s mostly themselves—it sounds selfish—but I feel like that’s probably the least selfish thing to do, because they’re just sending out that vibe of good. That’s a great thing, and anyone can really see that. That’s the way I’d like to live my life.”
It sounds as though if you can give yourself what you need within your own world, take care of yourself, love yourself, accept yourself, and are comfortable with that, then you’re allowing for other people to see you in that way, and to treat you with love, kindness, and respect, because that’s how you’re caring for and presenting yourself.
“Yeah. Yeah. Definitely.”
Have you ever had an instance where you judged someone because of the way they were acting, or the way that they looked, and were surprised to see that you were wrong in your first assessment of them?
“Yeah. I definitely noticed that. I feel like if I can see that they might be different, but I can see that they’re happy, I can see that they’re feeling more comfortable in their own shoes, then I feel like, ‘who am I to say?’ Who am I to be like, ‘Oh, wow! You’re different! I don’t like that! I’m not going to hang out with you. I’m not going to be around you.’ I like seeing people like that, because it’s like, ‘You’re different, and seem happier. You’re acting different than you were, maybe six months ago, but I feel like you’re definitely helping yourself.’ There are people I’ve seen where it’s just like, ‘Oh, wow! What you’re doing is a little toxic to yourself,’ and you might say something. But, I think most of the time they realize it. Once you go from seeing someone six months earlier, to becoming something completely different, I feel like you can definitely tell whether it’s hurting them or helping them. I feel like we can see that with all the people in our lives.”
Has it been hard for you to accept who you are? Have you found that to be challenging? You mentioned in the beginning of the interview that your challenge has been figuring out who you are and what you want to do with that, but has it been hard for you to accept pieces of yourself that you’ve since uncovered?
“I think that lately it’s definitely been harder to accept who I am. I was going to be a senior last year, but because of a lot of reasons—like school wasn’t working out—I just wasn’t focused at school. Things weren’t going well. I mean, I had the best friends I’d had at school, but then again I’m not basing myself off of all my friends. For me, it was just hard. At one point, I was just like, ‘You know, I think I need to take school off.’ So I took a semester off and I worked. I worked at different places like the restaurant. I worked at the shipping and receiving department at Macy’s. I worked at the credit union. I worked at the Oakdale Theater. I definitely worked a lot, but I realized it wasn’t who I really wanted to be. I like working and I liked the fact that I like to work, but after a while I didn’t accept it. I was like, ‘This isn’t what I want to do.’ That discouraged me, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But after a while, recently, I have realized a lot of different things. In high school, I used to be very academically centered. I used to try really hard in my classes. I used to try really hard in general. After a while, there were points where I’d be like, ‘I’m on top of the world. This is great. Everything’s good.’ But I remember the day before I went to college, a few friends and I went on a trip, and we ended up getting in a very bad car accident.
“We had totaled my car. It was right on I-95. I remember it was just—I remember getting out. There was a policeman there, and he was like, ‘Oh my God. Are you okay?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah. Yeah. I think I’m okay.’ He said, ‘You know, I’m not even going to give you any ticket.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God. What happened?’ I just got into this huge accident, and I had to call my parents. They thought I was sleeping over this kid’s house and it was this whole ordeal. I remember like—God—morning commutes—now I can understand morning commutes more—but even some of the people were driving by and out their windows yelling things like, ‘Stupid kids. Learn how to drive!’ The reason I got into the accident was that I didn’t get the proper amount of sleep the night before. We were up all night and I ended up falling asleep at the wheel. We went right into the middle of the road, hit a few cars. Anyway, it was pretty bad.
“I feel like that is definitely affecting me now—more medically. I refused ambulance service. They said, ‘Oh, the ambulance is here. Come on. Let’s go.’ I’m like, ‘No. I’m okay. I’m okay.’ For some reason, at that point in time, I said, ‘I don’t want to come with you guys. I want to go to school tomorrow.’ I was so set on going to school, nothing was going to stop me—even this. I remember my two friends ended up being okay. Actually, what still haunts me now is, before we got into the accident—a few exits down the road—we had to get gas, and one of my friends was sitting next to me in the front seat. I was pumping the gas. I got back in and he asks me, ‘Can I ask you an honest question?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘Would you like mind if I go in the back and sleep there, because it’s kinda harder to sleep in the front?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, of course. I don’t care. Whatever.’
“He goes back there, and then the accident happens. What happened was the passenger seat was the most—it was literally smooshed in. I don’t know—still today—it kinda haunts me—the what if and also why. What made that happen? Was there something bigger and that was just the agenda? It was just like a realization where, he was sleeping, he woke up—it was just like that. In the end, everything turned out fine, but I feel like that’s almost too unreal. I was saying, I don’t—I’m not really religious—but I feel like if anything ever kind of pushed me towards religion, it’s that—just the repercussions from that. I remember I got home and my mom was like, ‘Oh, my brother died in a car accident and that could have been you.’ I guess I didn’t comprehend everything that happened. It was just so much at once that—and to add onto that—the first day of freshman year at college was the next day—band camp actually.
“I did marching band at school, but there was so much going on. I remember my parents and I all tried to make it seem like that didn’t happen, and I just tried to get ready for school and stuff, but my computer was broken in the crash and everything, and it was definitely kinda like it was a huge mess. I remember driving in to get my computer fixed, my dad turned to me—and my dad never cries—but at one point he was crying. He said, ‘You know, son, they were saying you should have died in that car crash.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ He’s like, ‘You know, the fact that you didn’t die says you’re supposed to do something big—that you’re going to move mountains.’ I just remember being like, ‘Oh my God, Dad. Wow.’ And I also realized that what happened was crazy. One thing, though, I do regret about that whole situation is refusing the ambulance service.
“Six months later, I got home from school, I went throughout my whole freshman year of college, and it was like whatever—chill. It was a lot of fun in the marching band—got to go to the Grand Nationals in marching band. It was great, but I remember I was always tired—you know—college kid—always getting tired. But then I got home and I don’t think I worked that winter break, I just slept for thirteen hours and would wake up and feel like I didn’t sleep at all. I went to the doctor and he said, ‘Oh my God, Alex.’ Instantly, the doctor looked in my nose and said, ‘You have to get to an ear, nose, and throat doctor. Are you even breathing through your nose?’ I’m like, ‘Wait. What?’ So we go to the ear, nose, and throat doctor, and he instantly looks and is like, ‘You need surgery.’ I was like, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘The reason you’re not sleeping is you because you have obstructive sleep apnea. Your airways are messed up. Have you ever been hit in the face or anything?’ Looking back on that, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, six months ago, when I got into a car crash, the airbag went right into my face.’ I guess it messed up my nose. That was definitely a big thing.
“But more recently, I’m realizing my academics have gone down a lot. Now I’ve been seeing some doctors. I never really thought about it, but they were telling me, ‘Alex, maybe you should get neurologically checked. Based on the way you performed in high school, and then with college, it doesn’t match up. You’re not focused anymore. You’re not really going about things the way you used to. We want you to get checked.’ So in a few months, I have this really big exam where they’re gonna look at the way my brain works to see if there might have been any brain damage from the crash. If there was enough force to do that to my nose, then maybe my head got hit too, and something might have happened. So, it’s definitely something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, because it’s more recent that I’ve seen that.
“I’ve been trying to—even when I didn’t go to UMass, I went to Middlesex College—and it was just hard. I’d sit in class—things used to just come so easy to me in high school—but now it’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ I’d just get anxious for every assignment. Everything was just such big thing. I was blowing it out of proportion. I remember there was one class—and I’d never been to community college or anything—one of the assignments was just this huge thing where you have to write this executive report, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God. She assigned this overnight? What is this?’ I ended up staying up the whole night writing out this whole thing, thinking, ‘Whatever you do, get something out. Don’t worry about it too much. It’s better to have something than nothing.’ So I did this whole thing. I remember being so stressed. I went into class and the teacher was like, ‘Okay everyone, take out your executive reports.’ There were only two people who did it—me and this other kid. Everyone was like, ‘Yeah, we didn’t really understand this,’ and I was just like, ‘Well, here you go.’
“She collects it and she’s like, “Oh, since only two people did it, we might as well go over what those two people did in front of class.’ I remember being like, ‘Oh my God.’ I think I did fine. I don’t really remember that, but I was just more worried about—I think I just got pretty anxious. I was just so scared of schoolwork, where before it was like schoolwork just came fast, and I was just able to get things done. After a while, that’s when I kinda realized, ‘Oh. What happened?’ For years, my college grades are almost a really nice decline, but—I don’t know—I realized the one thing—the things that do help me get through college are doing things like alternative spring break, being real involved in that. I’m trying to be really involved in things that definitely help out. I was saying before, I worked in the dining hall as like a cook and everything—I don’t know—there is just something about that—I feel like I’m more of a hands-on person. I don’t like sitting down reading. I like organizing and doing, because I feel like in the end I’m feeding students, and that’s kinda cool—just going about my day—making some nice quesadillas and stuff—working late night at Park Street Dining Hall. It’s pretty fun.
“But just realizing that something might have come from that car crash—that something happened to my focus. I feel like it also kinda showed me that there are things in my life that I like to do—like the alternative spring break—trips like that. Now I’m applying for this big internship in Hartford, for Feeding Children Everywhere. Things like that, I get up to do. I get out of bed and I want to do it, compared with going to classes and stuff. There was a time when I would do that, but now—especially in college—getting myself out of bed is probably the hardest thing about college—unless I have something interesting like alternative spring break. Even at work—I’ve never missed a day of work, but it’s kinda like looking at that, I feel like there was a change. Whether these tests that I get for my head say, ‘Oh my God. You need to do this,’ or, ‘Oh my God. What happened?’, I’m not going to let that define me, because I feel like it kinda helped me. I feel like I might have taken a more academic approach to everything, but now I’m realizing that I might not necessarily want an academic approach to everything. I found the things I love to do, like helping others, and organizing events to help others. If it wasn’t for that then maybe I’d be studying accounting, sitting in a cubicle again.
“I’m trying not to make that whole car crash affect everything that’s happening, but it’s almost like I feel like what my dad was explaining when we were in the car when he said, ‘You’re gonna move mountains,’ Maybe that happened for a reason, but I want to find out that reason. I feel like I’m always going to be trying to figure out how to help others, and do things that might not be conventional. I might not graduate college within this year, but the next year I should. You know, part of the whole trouble, but also sort of motivation, is maybe that it’s not me. I’m not going to let some grade from college define me. I remember another big moment was—I work for the dining hall at school—and for graduation—it would have been my graduation—I had to work it. I was hawking waters. They come in and they’re like, ‘Alex, this is your uniform.’ It was all yellow—like what you would see at Lake Compounce or Six Flags. I’m like, ‘Really?’ They’re like, ‘Yeah. What you’re gonna do is, you’re gonna walk up and down the football stadium to all the people watching’—there were like five thousand people graduating. I literally was walking down and I saw all of my friends on the other side, really happy about it, and I just felt, I’m supposed to be there, but here I am hawking water.
“It was hard, but also very meaningful, because Neil DeGrasse Tyson was the guest speaker for commencement, and I remember listening to him. One of the first things he said was, ‘Remember that GPA you were trying for? It doesn’t mean anything. It’s what you want to do. You guys are the next generation.’ I remember just sitting there like, ‘You know, I might not be in a cap and gown, but I can also learn from this person. This isn’t me. I’m not going to be hawking water at every graduation from now on.’ It was almost motivational—well, I tried to make it motivational. It was hard. I remember hawking at graduation four years ago, and I’d have been like, ‘Oh, yeah. I can’t wait for graduation.’ Then fast-forward four years, and I’m there handing out water. I even got yelled at too. Some guy said, ‘Ah, we’re gonna die up here if we don’t get water!’ I was like, ‘Well, I’m trying! I’m like just doing my job. I’m just walking up here. I can’t do too much.’ It was very hot, but I did make eighteen dollars in tips, so I had that going for me! It was fun, but I feel like that what I was saying before about, you have to have a perspective about what you do. If it’s mostly boring, you can definitely beat yourself down for anything you want, but in the end, there’s always a way to look at it that will to get through it.
“There’s a story I love, The Donkey and the Well. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about it. It’s about this donkey that gets stuck in a well. It won’t get out, but it can get out. All the farmers are around it, trying to bribe it out with food and stuff, but it doesn’t come out. They finally give up, so they start filling up the hole with dirt. But instead of just dying, the donkey uses that dirt to step up—and step up from below. In the end, the donkey is saved. I kinda feel like that’s a perfect metaphor—the dirt in the hole. You can stay in the hole, even if you can get out because of self-pity and realization, but then you’re probably not gonna get thrown some help or anything. You can always decline the help and stay there, but you can also use it. It might not be overnight, but like the donkey, you just have to keep on taking one step at a time.”
Would that be the advice that you would offer to somebody else who may be able to relate to some of what you’ve shared with me today, in terms of accepting yourself, finding a purpose, and shifting perspectives?
“Yeah. Definitely. There’s also a story about sea stars on the beach. It’s about a little kid who’s walking on the beach, and—this is definitely something I like to think about and that I use as my motivation—this little kid is walking on the beach and there’s all these sea stars on the beach. They’re all kinda stranded there. So he’s throwing each one out, back into the ocean. A guy comes over and says, ‘What are you doing? Why do you even care? Why even try? They’re just going to get washed up again. The next day, they’re going to be in the exact same situation.’ The little kid says, ‘Because I saved that one, that one, for at least however long it’s back in the water, is safe. At least I can say I tried. If I didn’t, they might die tomorrow, but at least I can say I tried to help it live.’ I kinda like that, because it means you’re not going to save everyone, but I like looking at it like, in my life, you might as well try to help. There’s nothing bad that’s gonna come from it.”
Do you have a favorite quote that you’d like to share?
“My quote would be, ‘If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.’”
What does that mean to you?
“It’s just the idea that you can’t sit around and wait for something to happen, you have to go out and do it. Because, if you just do the exact same thing, you’re just going to fall into a routine. You have to actively want to do something different for something different to happen. That’s the way I look at it. I also want that as a tattoo, but I wanna get really in shape before I get that. I feel like that would kinda be cool, because it’s like—I don’t work out a lot, but once I do work out, it’ll be a change, and then it’ll look that much better on my body.”
How has it felt to talk about these experiences and feelings with me?
“It certainly felt really great just to let it out. One of my friends was talking about this a while ago that, you don’t just bring this up in conversation. You don’t go to someone’s house, and go, ‘Oh, hey. What’s up? What’s going on in your life? Tell me something that happened that was really bad, or an occurrence that was a challenge.’ I think a lot of people can benefit from that, though. That’s what I’m realizing. I just feel relieved, because I don’t go around every day like, ‘Oh my God. I got into a car crash four years ago,’ but I feel that it’s healthy to just let it out, and I’ve definitely—I mean—I even feel better now—so everything’s good now.”
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