given by Ned Dockery ’20, Treasurer, Student Council

Good morning everyone. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m ready for a vacation. I swear we never get a break… sure, it’s Homecoming Week, but to make sure I don’t have too much fun, my teachers made sure to jam in 5 quizzes and 4 tests in these 5 “exciting” days. And weekends don’t count either; they used to when I hung out with friends but now I fall asleep at 10pm most weekend nights. I need a real vacation.

In early 2016, my parents told me about a trip that I imagined would be one of these vacations of a lifetime. As soon as I heard the word “Cuba,” I was all-in. With its pristine beaches, salty tostones, and rhythmic music like salsa, who wouldn’t want to go to that exotic Caribbean island?

A couple of months later my mom dragged me out of bed and took me to the doctor’s office; when he grabbed a long syringe tipped with a razor-sharp needle and asked if I was ready, I finally began to think about what I was getting myself into. Would this trip really be the exciting vacation that I first expected? Was I truly ready? My doctor didn’t care–he was growing impatient. Before I could answer his original question, a sharp pain shot up through my arm. But, eyes tightly shut, I survived the agony. I started regaining my earlier confidence. “I am ready for this trip!” I thought. Proud of myself for surviving the first injection, I opened my eyes with a relieved smile. It quickly faded when I noticed four more syringes lying on my doctor’s desk.

After all five shots that horrible day, I sat in my mom’s car and struggled to hold up my sore arms. I figured it was time to find out exactly what I would be doing in Cuba. What my mom told me certainly did not sound like a vacation. I learned that I would be working under the hot Cuban sun with other high school students attending Saint Michael’s church to build equipment for a small episcopal church in a small Cuban city. I knew the trip involved St. Michael’s, but I had no idea it involved so much work. No beaches. No top-quality food. Not even purified water or flush-able toilet paper. I thought about backing out, but I couldn’t. My parents were determined, and the mission trip was just a couple months away… it was too late to change my mind.

By the time August rolled around, I had built up a steady supply of fear. I was traveling to a foreign country, with a foreign language, without my parents for the first time in my life. I was living with people whose names I didn’t even know. I was the youngest kid and the only one from ESD. I was scared, worried, anxious... As I said goodbye to my mom in the airport, my heart beat faster than it ever had before. I was ready for the worst week of my life.

Indeed, those 7 days in Cuba were nothing like a beach vacation; they were ten times better. I met students that are some of my closest friends today. I learned about a fascinating new culture and practiced speaking an equally-exciting language. I collaborated with youth who lived thousands of miles away from me, and I realized how similar we are, despite all of that distance. When I returned to the Dallas airport, my heart beat quickly again; this time, though, because I was thrilled to tell my parents about the amazing time I had.

Since that trip, I have traveled to Bolivia and the Dominican Republic with groups performing similar service projects. In the Dominican Republic, I lived with a host family in a home without doors or running water for a month, all without a word of English. During that trip, I wasn’t just the only kid from ESD; I was the only kid from Dallas. And so, just as I had two years before, I stood afraid in the security line at the airport but returned with priceless friendships, memories, and experiences.

None of these unforgettable opportunities would have been possible if my parents didn’t convince me to go on that trip to Cuba–if I hadn’t faced my fear and ventured out into the unknown. Will Smith, not only a fresh prince but also a surprisingly-talented motivational speaker said “God placed the best things in life on the other side of fear.” The challenge is not the event, the skydive, the service trip; it is the fear that precedes them. Why did I stand in the airport, heart pounding, so afraid? I was still at my mom’s side, speaking English in a familiar environment with all of the resources I could have asked for. So why was that the hardest part of the trips? It shouldn’t be! There is no reason to worry, to doubt, to overthink. Because once we are fully immersed in our element, the fearfulness is quickly replaced by joyfulness.

I’m sure most of you have heard the beginning of the following quote from FDR’s First Inaugural Address, but I doubt you have heard the end: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” The second part carries the bulk of the message. Let us not allow unjustified terror to paralyze our needed efforts. Especially during a month in which we wonder about humility, about “thinking less of ourselves” and more of one another, we can’t be afraid of branching out to help other people. Activities like this are needed efforts; we must do them to make the world a better place… and we can’t let fear stop us.

Whatever you’re scared of doing, go out and do it; I guarantee it will be worth it, maybe even more so than a vacation. You might be afraid now, but there is no reason to be. So let us overcome our fears and enjoy the bliss on the other side.

I hope you all have a great Haunted Homecoming–don’t be too scared.

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