My name is Ahimsa Philpott, and I proudly served at Rhodes Middle School.
When I was told that I’d be given this honor of addressing you all, it took me a long time to come up with what, exactly, I would want to say.
I could talk about a memorable moment, about how one of my students has impacted my life forever, about how much potential I see in all of you, about the many amazing things that I am sure the future has in store for us. All of these things would be heartfelt; they would be true. However, instead, I’ve decided to collect some of my learnings and reflections in one of my preferred formats:
Unsolicited Advice and Realizations, for Redheaded Girls Who Decide To Give a Year of Service Before Going to College
After Jeanann Verlee
While all of your friends from home prepare to begin their academic careers all across the country, you will anxiously ponder what exactly it means for you to help students get “back on track to graduate, using the early warning indicators of the ABC’s.”
You will tire of trying to explain what it is you will be doing instead of going to college. Little do you know that your “elevator speech” will undergo some very necessary renovations over the course of your year.
When you arrive in San Antonio, in the sweltering month of August, you will be tempted to explore by walking around outside. Do not do it. Your body is not used to this heat. You will get sick.
On the first day of BTA, you will want to retreat, instead of joining the overwhelming clusters of many other young people, dressed in khakis and white t-shirts, as they wait awkwardly, locked outside of Ed White Middle School’s front doors.
You will cringe every time one of the very first “get to know you” questions is “Where did you go to college?” And then you will sigh and answer that you have yet to go. You will be surprised to learn that there are only 4 others like you, recent high school graduates, that is. Though, very soon, there will only be 3.
You will question your decision to come here.
You will take copious notes at each informational session, trying to absorb every bit of knowledge about the National Education Landscape, about Idealism, about City Year’s abbreviations and jargon, about how to correctly fill out time cards.
You will feel very much alone at the end of each day, thinking that beginning college would be so much simpler.
When you finally learn at what school you will be serving, Rhodes Middle School, you will feel hopeful. You think that you will finally be able to interact with students, what you’ve been waiting for all along. However, that will not truly take place for another few weeks.
You will sign up for as many things as you can, so that you can feel occupied at all times, rather than face the feelings of homesickness that have not stopped creeping up on you.
You will sweat more than you have ever sweat before, as you cheer and shout outside of school every morning, as the students file in. You will decide that this heat, to you, is more of a Delta than a Plus.
You will attempt to adjust to your team, a team of very different people from all corners of the country. You will wonder how you will all ever get along. Be patient. It will take a lot of time.|
You will quickly be swept up in the chaos and commotion of service, trying to balance all that you must do: help redirect students in class, answer question after question, pullout someone from choir, from P.E., from art, take a group out for basketball, plan your Leader’s Lunch, edit the Q2Q for Playground Build, send out yet another check-in form for Corps Council. Try to find a moment to decompress.
You will question your decision to come here.
You will soon fall into a set schedule for tutoring: Johnny on Mondays and Thursdays during Seventh Period, Samantha on Tuesdays and Fridays during First, etcetera. Always go to Fifth period. Fifth period is mayhem.
You will fall out of touch with many people from home. It is too difficult to explain what it is you really do, how necessary this work is. The language escapes you.
You will fall into such a rhythm that you do not even notice how many days, weeks, months are passing. You will smile every time your students say hi to you in the hallway. You will cry when one of them leaves before you can say goodbye. You will learn that there is too much to cry about.
You will no longer question your decision to come here.
You will find it difficult to worry about anything other than City Year related things. You will spend your evenings and weekends going to student games, preparing journals for them, picking out books they might finally, actually read.
You will realize that this is the first time you have had to make a community of your own, rather than inherit one. You will hate your teammates. You will fall in love with them. You will be in awe of them. You could not do this without them.
Your students will make you laugh. Jesse will say, “you’re a real blond girl, right, Miss? For real? For real?” This will be him asking if you are a natural blonde. Give him the correct language for this, and then tell him the truth, that no, you are, in fact, a natural redhead. Rodolfo will say you have no eyebrows. Sebastian will ask you what it was like to meet your teammates for the first time, and whether or not you ever think about what happens after you die. Joshua will try to convince you that President Obama is part of the Illuminati. Nathan will say that he wants to write this speech for you, though, on second thought, he'll say that he thinks he'd be stuck on the first sentence for a while.
You will no longer think it possible that you could have done anything else but come here.
You will learn more and more about your students’ lives. You will see all with which they contend. You will want to save them. You must understand that you cannot.
However, you will begin to understand just how much you can do for these students. You can give them someone to look up to. You can help them advocate for themselves. You have so much influence that it is almost overwhelming.
You will decide that this is what you were meant for. You will feel like you know what you want to do for the rest of your life. You will feel the truth of why you serve: that transforming education really is the beginning of social justice.
You will not want this to end. But, you will be honored to have had the experience.
You will be so grateful that you came here.
You will realize that this is (quite possibly, almost probably, definitely) the best thing you have ever done.
Corps, you have so much to be proud of, to be thankful for, to remember. I cannot help but think that we have done something truly incredible. Congratulations on this powerful year of service. It has been an honor to serve alongside of you.