April 29, 2019
Hi guys! I wanted to take a moment and thank the amazing non-profit organization MOSTe for honoring me at their 2019 Lantern Event. This community works hard to make sure girls in underserved communities have all the tools necessary to become college educated, successful young women. It was a humbling experience to get to know the hundreds of talented, brilliant women enrolled in MOSTe’s mentorship program. They left me moved, inspired, and truly confident that the future is in great hands. I also wanted to share my speech from the event, in case it can somehow make it to the hands of Memorial High School’s guidance counselor circa 2005, Miss Stacey Swensen. She was a mentor of mine who changed the course of my life. And I hope this inspires you to thank the mentors in your life, seek out potential guidance, or reach out to help those who could use your knowledge and experience.
My MOSTe Lanterns Honor Speech
Thank you to Amy Ludwig and Cindy Lopez for this honor today and for all of the tireless work that you do for this life-changing organization. And thank you to my talented friend Aimee Garcia, for nominating me and welcoming me into this wonderful community.
I especially want to thank you, the impressive young ladies of MOSTe, for letting me be a part of your day. Learning about your lives and your relationships inside of this community has been beyond inspiring. To have the guidance and support of experienced mentors, to know that someone has your back, that you are not alone in this journey- that is invaluable. It takes a very special kind of young woman to be proactive and responsible in planning the course of her education. Taking these steps will guarantee that you are the author of your own future. And I am confident you all will have amazing stories to tell.
When I was your age, I had an idea of what I wanted my future to look like. But I had no clue how to get there. And the closest thing I had to a mentor was my assigned high school guidance counselor. However, I was lucky enough to be paired with a counselor who was a smart young woman, who was empathetic and non judgmental, who was encouraging and supportive. Her name was Stacey Swensen. And though I would only get to have a handful of mandatory meetings with her, she would profoundly change the course of my life.
You see I was a kid who busted my butt in school, made the honor society, got good grades- but at home I was struggling. For a very long time, my family had some financial hardships. And having a roof over our heads or food in the fridge- those were never guarantees. I had adult responsibilities on my shoulders, like getting a job early to help pay the bills, right alongside my teenage responsibilities of homework and after school clubs…and playing video games. I worried about simply surviving day to day. So the concept of any sort of “future” outside of my small town, the idea of continuing my education, of becoming something greater- seemed completely out of reach.
Not only that, but to take it one step further and have dreams of a creative career, a risky career- that seemed almost absurd. I felt like I had to stay in my lane. As if the heights I could reach were restricted to the depths of my pockets. I did not know what was possible for a girl like me. I did not see examples of girls like me on TV or in books. And it is very hard to be what you cannot see.
But Stacey Swensen gave me the push I needed in the right direction. Because she was the first adult to ask me what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, and where I saw my future. She knew that all I needed was a little bit of support. So when I came to her with big dreams and lofty goals, she did not miss a beat.
When I told her I wanted to be a writer one day, she didn’t tell me to explore a more stable career- she encouraged me to get experience by entering writing and poetry competitions. When I told her I wanted to apply to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, she didn’t scoff and make me feel like a prestigious university was out of reach- she educated me about scholarships and Early Admissions programs. And when I told her my goal after film school was to become a professional wrestler and beat people up for a living- the woman DID NOT BLINK. She didn’t even ask me if I had a backup plan, she just asked me to make sure I didn’t get hit in the head too much.
When I told her that I wasn’t sure if any of these goals were possible because I had never seen them accomplished before by a girl who looked like me, a girl who came from where I came from, she asked me a question that would inspire me for the next 15 years, “Why can’t you be the first?”
Whether she realized it or not, this high school guidance counselor, who was probably in her twentieth meeting that day, helped forever change my perspective. I thought my background- my differences- were flaws that would hold me back. But the interesting thing about “flaws” is that they truly are in the eye of the beholder. Weakness can turn into strength with just a simple shift of perspective. You get to choose.
I chose to see my childhood struggles as a head start. They made me smarter and tougher. When you have to grow up fast, when you have to work twice as hard to feel equal, you learn more. Miss Swensen helped me realize that what I had been given was valuable life experience. That experience would be helpful in little ways, like giving me better stories to tell in my college application essays. And that experience would arm me for the future, better preparing me to survive any possible challenges, or setbacks or rejection that came my way. I had the toughened skin of a fighter before I even stepped into a ring. And so I would fight to be what I never got to see.
I never saw anyone go from being homeless to a film school student, but I asked myself, “Why can’t I be the first?” And I got accepted to NYU. I never saw a 5 foot pipsqueak with asthma compete against body builders and legit amazon women, but I asked myself, “Why can’t I be the first?” And I became a three time WWE Champion. I never saw anyone transition from wearing spandex on television to being taken seriously as an author. But I asked myself, “Why can’t I be the first?” And my debut book became a New York Times Best Seller.
I often think about what might have been different if I had not been asked that singular question that day. If I had not been given the encouragement that I needed. A caring person, in a position to help me, chose not to judge my limitations, but to see my promise. A young woman with experience chose to share her knowledge and help pull another young woman up. In five short meetings, my guidance counselor made me feel a little less alone and a lot more capable. In one sentence, I was given the nudge I needed to take several leaps of faith. If that much progress can be made in such a short amount of time, imagine the earth shattering results that come from the consistent, comprehensive support MOSTe provides.
The tools this program offers to plan an education, the sisterhood that is fostered through mentorship, the empowerment a stable support system provides- that is how you change limitations into endless possibilities. Mentors, I hope you realize the weight of your words. Mentees, I hope you realize the power of your perspective. I am confident every young woman in this room will become the first in any future she decides to write for herself. Thank you so much for being the change I always wanted to see.