Without any warning, she fell face-first to the ground!
Milling around in the courtyard moments before, flocks of tourists encircled their docents, focused on the history of The Cluny Museum, a medieval mansion constructed of gothic architecture and surrounded by crenellated walls in the fifth arrondissement of Paris. At one corner of the courtyard was an eclectic group of young students: four boys and sixteen girls, who, through their dress and mannerisms, were clearly not Parisian. Among the outer edges of their cluster there stood a petite, slightly tanned, brunette girl. Glancing around anxiously, she appeared to be disoriented and confused. As perspiration began to glisten on her forehead, she fanned her face frantically with the museum brochure. Perhaps she was bored with the lecture or maybe she had trouble translating the French into her native language. Hastily, she shuffled towards the opposite side of her group. Seeking refuge from the hot, humid weather, she found relief out of the sun. Under the shade, she leaned against the cool alabaster columns of the museum. As she supported herself against the building, her auburn eyes flitted anxiously. Completely oblivious of the lecture, she cradled her head in her hands. Had the exceptionally hot and sunny July weather gotten to her?
While the first of the group meandered into line at the front door, awaiting entry to see the museum’s famous tapestries and architecture, the peculiar girl ambled slowly across the cobblestone. Blindly grasping for the hand of a girl walking near her, she began to totter through the courtyard. At that moment, she tumbled onto the cobblestone, scraping her face, hands, and knees.
Barely cognizant of her surroundings, she opened her eyes a few moments later to see a group of foreign faces looming above her. Blood trickled slowly down her leg as she was escorted to a nearby bench in the shade. Once she began to regain her composure, she tentatively drank le Coca given her by another tourist. Seated in the shade, her cheeks were eventually restored with a natural rosiness. She never was able to enter the Cluny, however, as she was escorted to the taxi waiting to take her to the safety of her room near the Eiffel Tower.
I am the girl who fainted outside the Cluny, something that I had never experienced before and certainly not the way to make a positive first impression.
In July 2011, I traveled to Paris. Living in a foyer with twenty other American students in the middle of the city, I was soon completely assimilated into the Parisian lifestyle. Each morning, after delighting on a delicious croissant, Ifaced a rigorous academic schedule. Following my mornings of consecutive French language and history classes, our group traveled along both banks of the Seine, exploring and learning the details of the differing architecture of the city and frequenting museums such as the Musée D’Orsay. In the afternoon, I would traverse the Metro Station, switching trains three times before arriving at Le Gare de Lyon and walking to the location of my volunteer work: a kindergarten camp where my fondest memories from Paris were made. With children ages four to eleven, I would dance to French rap, play Uno, romp around on the playground, and most importantly, communicate in French from 2:30 to 5:30 everyday.
Whether it was lunching on the Champs Elysees with friends, watching the brilliant fireworks behind the twinkling Eiffel Tower, or cheering on the bikers in the final laps of Le Tour de France, my experiences in Paris provided me with a deeper intellectual and cultural understanding, which will never be forgotten. Visiting Paris bestowed upon me a heightened awareness for the diverse cultures of a world that I have never known, such as living in a city of more than twelve million people, learning and appreciating the mores of the French, and advancing my language skills.
While hitting the ground that first day in Paris was slightly extreme and uncontrollable, this incident was the quintessential beginning to a remarkable experience and helped me to reflect upon myself. Fainting on the first day of my Parisian adventure allowed me to reevaluate the stereotypes that so many Americans express about Parisians and to ultimately grasp the importance of social customs and expectations. As foreigners helped me to my feet, I finally became conscious that I was never truly alone. These French men and women did not seem aloof or arrogant, but instead they were kind and friendly. The people that I met on my trip to Paris, even the Americans, taught me that nothing is as it seems and to never judge anything by its physical appearance. As I fell to the ground, I completely embarrassed myself in front of people that I had only met that day, yet I somehow managed to overcome this humiliating incident and was able to form lifelong friendships with the people in my program.
If you look around the chapel right now, observe the people sitting next to you or across the room. Think back to the first time that you saw them. What impact did they have on you? How has your opinion of them changed?
When I first arrived on campus for preseason on September 4, 2009, I was a short, awkward girl with braces. Mounting the steps to the third floor of Kniffin Dorm, butterflies were plentiful in my stomach as the nervousness encompassed me. I had a huge white bow fastened to the side of my head and a white dress on. My new roomie, Ash, whom I had never spoken to before, was dressed in a white t-shirt and black shorts, already prepared for her debut on the soccer field. She glanced at me with a confused look. For the rest of the year, I wore a bow to school every day and often was defined by my girly accessory, even though I knew myself to be more than that.
Someone once said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself.” Looking back on my time at Pomfret, I am aware of how much I have changed and the independence that I have cultivated in my four years here. One thing that I have come to understand is the importance of reputation. Not the importance of popularity, but, instead, individualism. At such a small school, full of all different sorts of people, it is sometimes difficult to refrain from categorizing individuals because of the way they dress, the sport they play, or the people that they spend their time with. In my own life, the expectations that I have for myself and that others have for me dictate the depth of my performance. Whether in the classroom or on the field, I strive to always do my best because I know what people anticipate. I encourage each of you in this chapel today to recognize your sense of self and exercise your distinct characteristics to the best of your ability. Life is not a predetermined plan; a person must take charge and create the successes and magnificent moments on his or her own. Taking life into one’s own hands through practice and determination will lead to the desired result.
Like everything you do in life, think before you act. Earn the respect of those around you.
“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”