Congratulations to the 18 graduates of Cohort 19!
The following remarks were written and delivered by William Williams for the Cohort 19 graduation celebration on June 25th, 2019 at LaGuardia Community College. William reflects on growth and the importance of community.
Here we are, the big day on the big stage… graduation. A lot of thoughts come to my mind and a lot of feelings come to my body but for certain they are all pleasant. When I look at my fellow cohort members today… all of their faces seem familiar and yet so different. Why is that I ask? Allow me to answer my own question. It is because they have grown and matured through grit and perseverance. Because they faced their personal struggles head on and conquered them. Because they pushed through the rain, cold, humid, and heated weather. Because they’ve cast aside their differences to ensure that we all cross the finish line together. Cohort 19, we are now more than who we were before three months ago.
Before I joined Green City Force I was unsure and lacked direction about what I wanted to do with my life. I did not have a job and rarely socialized with other people. But I knew at the age of 23 that I could not continue living my life like this. Fast forward to orientation week, and we are tasked to share three major points of hardship in our lives. As corps members shared their adversities I thought to myself how brave they were to have shared their stories and they even gave me the courage to share mine. I thought to myself right then and there that this was a good environment to be in, with people who look and live like me, trying to improve themselves despite their past and current life challenges.
Fast forward again, it’s the first day of bootcamp and we have to keep each other motivated through our call and responses. One corps member stood out to me because of her succinct and commanding voice. This young woman who had sat in the front row at orientation and would repeatedly be told to speak louder by the staff is now leading us. Her voice traveling clearly across a two-acre farm. Who is this girl I asked myself? Where did she come from? Having witnessed a transformation in her character I began to wonder what are the others capable of doing? What am I capable of doing? The answers to my questions would be revealed in the following days to come as corps members began to showcase their leadership abilities through educating residents about plant life, touring children around the farms, cooking food for the team, organizing farm stands, encouraging and supporting each other through extra service and much more.
Of course, the past three months was not always sunshine and rainbows. We argued and rammed heads with each other and the staff. Some of us fell ill to the weather and missed service which in return increased the workload and frustrations for the able team. Evidently, those setbacks did not impede our success because we stand here together today on this stage. A common task in farming is transplanting. Transplanting, simply explained is to carefully remove a plant from one area to another so that it may grow more efficiently. When we first attempted this process some of the transplants would no longer stand up in their newly found homes. They appeared wilted and lifeless and thus we had assumed that they were dead. Our team leaders told us to continue transplanting and that they needed to be carefully nurtured by properly covering their roots in the soil and providing them with water. Doubtful that they will live, we did as we were told. About a week or two later when we returned to the farms, we searched for our transplants. ”Where are they?” we asked. “Wait is that them?” “Are you sure this is the right bed?” We couldn’t believe it! The transplants were all standing tall and their leaves started to grow. Amazing we thought. Much like how the plants grew with proper care and patience, we grew together thanks to our efforts in trying to understand one another, resolving our differences, and our team leaders’ guidance.
If there is one thing that I truly value about the GCF experience it would be its sense of community. Your voice and story will be heard. As we shared our stories, bonds were naturally forged. Before we even realized it, we had become one. We shared each other’s joy, sorrow, laughter, anger, and dreams. As the end of our service term drew near I found myself thinking a lot about the journey and one particular thought had entered my mind: we are basically a family. At the beginning of our work, there was little plant life on the farms. We had to measure the farm beds and transport topsoil and compost into them, almost like constructing a house. Then we had to cultivate the soil within the beds as if preparing a crib for a baby. Finally, we would plant the seeds and nurture them. As days passed and the seeds grew, we had grown alongside with them as individuals and teammates. Dedication and coordination made this possible and is a testament to the GCF community experience.
And now I would like to express my gratitude to the GCF staff for their guidance, patience, and presence. I appreciate the fact that you all are coaches and living examples of success. And to my cohort you are all special individuals with great talents. Speaking from someone who has blocked many people from their life for the past five years, I say this with the utmost honesty… that I appreciate having to meet and work with you all. Every day with you was a day made worthwhile. Although we will be parting our way soon, it is not an end to us or our story. Rather it is the beginning of a new chapter. A chapter where we follow and achieve our dreams. A chapter where our presence and knowledge empowers others to be better than who they were before. I will not be wishing you good luck on your journey for the simple fact is that you don’t need it. We are all capable of success and we will achieve it. No ifs ands or buts about it. And always remember, a better you equals a greater us.
You can meet all the graduates of Cohort 19 and read their testimonials on the Graduate Gallery.