Get your tissues ready. A few things are astoundingly evident to me
right now. That I’m absolutely terrified of giving this
speech. That I absolutely must give this speech. The only way I will manage to share anything of value is to do so from a place of authenticity
and vulnerability. That last part is especially terrifying for
me. And yet I know that the best gift I can share
with you is my humanity. The default mode of functioning so often seems
to be to sacrifice our authenticity and instead, in the word of Renee Brown, to hustle for
our worthiness. So, in keeping with my commitment to stand
before you today, a totally real and whole human being, I’m going to tell you how I ended
up here on this stage. The moment that I decided to get a degree
in psychology was a particularly salient one for me. I was 19 living on the streets of Hollywood. I spent my days begging for change and my
evenings numbing myself with drugs and alcohol. I ate out of trashcans or whatever was given
to me by people passing by. I slept on rooftopss or in the parks; often while
clutching a weapon out of fear of being raped or robbed. Previous to living on the streets, I spent
my teen years living in institutions. Primarily, because my mother was a heroin
addict that was intensive neglectful and my father was absent. My life in institutions wasn’t exactly the
step out of trauma that it was intended to be. While institutionalized, I was subjected to
institutional trauma. I was forced to take medication that impaired
knowing where I was or to know who I was. I lived in a disoriented fog. There are long stretches of my childhood during
this time that I can’t recall, that I slept through, or that I was immobile. I didn’t play outside because all doors and
windows were I lived were locked. I spent a lot of time being tied to beds as
a kid. My childhood was devoid of warmth and gentleness. My playgrounds and caregivers were sterile
and cold. The message that I got was that there was
something deeply wrong with me and that I needed to be fixed. The questions that seemed to be on all of
the psychologists and psychiatrists minds was, what’s wrong with you? No one had ever bothered to ask me,
what happened to you? I was a job. A paycheck. A diagnosis. A 12:30 appointment. My humanity was systematically stripped from
me. When I was a adult I was released into the
world with no support and lots of trauma. As I sat on Hollywood boulevard, tired and
sunburned, I had finally had enough. I declared loudly and with my entire being
that I was going to get off the streets and better myself. And that I was going to help others who had
similar life challenges find their way. I spent my first few years in college floating around and trying to figure out the best way
to help others. I eventually settled on becoming a photojournalist
and on my first trip to India, quickly realized that it was not the impact I wanted to make. The only thing left, was to commit to my long held vision of becoming a mental health provider
and changing the way we do mental health. So I did. I completed my first two years of school in Upstate New York and received an associates degree. Then I transferred to CUNY SPS and have spent
the last two years working towards a bachelors in Psychology. While pursuing a psychology degree, I often
had to make my way through content that forced me to confront my past
in the mental health system. I had to look deeply at the system that caused
me so much harm in my youth and, often, I tried to do it unflinchingly so that I could
meet deadlines and thrive in the here and now. I regularly had symptoms of PTSD during my
associates’ and bachelors’. Often, I would wake from dreams where I was
locked in a place I couldn’t get out of. I would tense up when watching documentaries
about the Stanford Prison Experiment or other such films, feeling short of breath, shaking,
and wanting to run out of the room. And I quickly became angry when discussions
of pathology arose and disheartened at how quickly my classmates were to see an individual
as a diagnoses rather than a human being. I brought my trauma into the psychology program
and I often felt like quitting due to the heavy burden of swimming through a past while
struggling through the present. Because of the scope and aim of CUNY SPS to provide
educational opportunities to adult learners, I got to present my authentic self,
the self with a history. Rather than trying to pass for a 20-something
year old from an average american household, I got to share my real experiences of abuse
and trauma with professors and classmates. I wasn’t expected to split off from myself. I shared my struggles and the wisdom that
came from being a single mother and survivor. I believe that,to some degree, my professors,
classmates and myself have touched into our shared humanity and have become more realy
human beings as a result. I am entirely grateful to CUNY SPS for giving
me the room to show up as myself, a whole and perfectly
imperfect being. Today I work in the mental health system providing
trauma-informed care to people who have a past similar to my own. I’m also the founder of Awakening of a Woman,
a resilience coaching program that enables women to rebuild their lives
after adversity From where I stand today, it’s easy to see
adversity is not someplace that you travel out of or through as quickly as possible. But rather it’s a path to an awakening to
our authentic selves. An alchemic gift that you take with you, transforming
whatever it touches into spiritual gold. Like many of you, I have something of a blueprint
for the future. But in all honesty, I know the future is uncertain. I know that anything can happen
at any moment. That we create a framework for our lives but
our framework is always shifting. Often in ways that we could have never expected. Any one of us could receive a cancer diagnosis
or a have tweet that goes viral. We could get hit by a bus or land the job
of our dreams. What is absolutely certain to me is that
life is brief. Too brief not to commit to spending every moment
living it wholeheartedly. To brief to hide or pretend. To brief to disavow our sacred life experiences
both past, and, most importantly, in the present. Wherever you end up, show up whole and embodied. Authentic and ready to own your story and
yourself. In the words of Buddhist Zen monk Shunryu
Suzuki Roshi, nothing we see or hear is perfect. But right there, in the imperfection,
is perfect reality. Thank you. [Applause]