To the Grads of 2013:
Congratulations! However, I’m going to get straight to business; I’m not here to pat you on the back- I’m here to challenge you to go into the unknown, to seize every opportunity that life throws your way, to travel! As you eagerly await removing the shackles of formal education and leap into your future, I want to share my journey as I too graduated from Mount Baker. Yet now I’m writing this to you, finished my semester abroad at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, with my backpack stuffed, staring and taunting me to begin my trip from the bottom of Africa to the top, Cape Town to Cairo, Egypt. I’m not here to boast or brag, I’m here to share my experience as proof that no dream is too big, even if you’re from Cranbrook, B.C.
I graduated from MBSS in 2007 and am finishing a degree in International Studies from Simon Fraser University. My trip to Cape Town is my second journey to Africa, but my first big adventure abroad began in the hallways of MBSS. My brother, Kyle Acierno, had been living in Asia while I was in Grade 10 and we came up with the wild idea to backpack southeast Asia together. After months of planning, saving, and convincing our parents, I spent the summer of Grade 10 backpacking the beaches of Thailand, climbing the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and navigating the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
At 16, this trip shook my world beyond my wildest imagination as I was exposed for the first time to abject poverty. I saw children with no limbs from leftover landmines of the Vietnam War, families crammed into tiny huts, and killing fields of genocidal dictators. Suddenly I was trying to find myself amidst a whole new conception of the world; one of disparities in opportunity, education, and wealth. My life was changed forever. Following that trip, I continued onto ancient civilizations in Guatemala, learned Creole in Belize, visited Italy, Spain and Mexico. I sat in the same chairs as you dreaming up my next adventure, playing each day it out in my head. Then graduation came and I jumped on a plane back to Asia. At 19, I moved to Tanzania, Africa on a volunteer HIV/AIDs awareness project.
Four years later, a degree awaits my return from my semester abroad in Cape Town, but in just days I will begin my biggest trip yet, Africa, bottom to top. In the next two months I’ll snake my way from South Africa, to Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, and eventually to Cairo, Egypt. I’m young, female, and from Cranbrook? So how did I do it? First and foremost, I had ideas and goals in which I believed I could achieve. When you believe in yourself and put in the effort, you truly can do anything. Second, I had amazing family and friends who supported me all the way. Third, I made sacrifices, saved money, worked crappy jobs, applied for scholarships, whatever it took. But most importantly, I didn’t let fear of the unknown stand in my way.
So if someone asks “where do you want to be in five years?” DREAM BIG! Never think Madagascar or Saudi Arabia is too far and dont let anyone tell you it’s too dangerous- do your own research. If you want to climb Mount Everest or swim with sharks you can! And parents, listen and trust your children; let them live out their crazy ambitions. The conventional quest for university and career isn’t always the best option for all. The wealth of knowledge that beacons on the Great Wall of China and Egypt’s pyramids often provides greater insights and self-discovery than a school full of books. St. Augustine once said: “Life is a book, if you stay in one place, you only read one page.” The more we understand about the world, the easier it is to live together, the less we succumb to racism, and sooner we realize that we are all people who need food, shelter, water, and love. That is all.
So grads of 2013, believe in yourself and the world is yours.
Global citizen Chelsey Acierno is a member of the Class of 2007, Mount Baker Secondary Schoolw