I’m Kelsi Okun, I’m a senior, I have the extreme privilege of being your student body president this year, and here’s how I want to spend the next 15 minutes. I’m going to tell you a lot of random stories about times I’ve admired this close, close community and then one time when I really struggled to see it. And then convince you that they are all related and then that they have something to do with you. And this community. And this sisterhood.
So please have faith that this will all connect, try and stay awake for at least 1/2 of this, and, in suit with my idol and life coach DJ Khaled I invite you to take the next few minutes to “ride wit me on the journey to more success.” Guys, I promise. That’s my only quote, I couldn’t find a Merriam Webster’s dictionary definition for major key, so that’s all I’ve got.
Okay here we go.
My friends leave the best voicemails. I kid you not. I’ve cried more at these 2-minute masterpieces than I do at Pixar shorts, which is saying a lot. The way that they can craft words into instant memories without stuttering or second guessing their vulnerability or hesitating with their sympathy—it’s unreal.
I, on the other hand, can’t go more than 10 seconds without awkwardly laughing or sidestepping reality with ill-timed sarcasm.
Sisterhood is unconditional kindness.
I attend class the minimum amount to actually graduate. If you know me, you know it’s true. I ride horses 6 days a week for a couple hours each afternoon, travel almost every weekend for competitions and show up for class in between. It’s a chaotic schedule and it means that I can’t do normal “NCS girl” things every day- school sports, afterschool events, attending performances are usually out of the picture. And it breaks my heart. But, like Ly-Lan noted, somehow my friends still reach out to me and still try and include me, even if fruitlessly, on their agendas. And they spend time with me, even when time is so devastatingly limited. They continue to love me even if it’s inconvenient.
Sisterhood is accepting each other’s flaws for what they are not who they are.
Let me preface my next example with the fact that at the end of last year, I think there was a movement to impeach all our senior class leaders and to start general rioting immediately following our first attempt at a conversation about possible senior themes. RIP Kingdom. But then we came together at the senior retreat this fall and I’ve truly never witnessed such a sense of whole-hearted cooperation and absolute motivation to work together for the benefit of the whole. People took ownership of their ideas and then others constructively challenged them, but then those same challengers listened intently to the responses and there was this exchange of creativity and inspiration that helped to develop the ideas into something, dare I say it?, magical.
Witnessing these mature and thoughtful conversations about something that everyone was so obviously excited about, though in different ways, made me realize that I am surrounded by an extraordinary family of individuals who can challenge each other’s ideas without challenging the people themselves.
Sisterhood is dedication to a common cause and dedication to one another.
I love to hear myself talk. Honestly, it’s a real problem and I’m sure you are all realizing just how serious of an issue it is at this point. But, I have teachers and friends at this school who can listen, truly listen, to me without judgment or without a hidden agenda. You see, I have this habit of sitting on a random desk in a classroom during office hours and absolutely overextending my welcome. All I’ll say is that the conversations spiral off topic far too quickly, but just knowing that there are people at this school that care about the conversation more than the clock is exceptional. Because Sisterhood is listening, not just hearing; It’s listening for the sake of listening, not necessarily for replying.
I think that I hold a lot of these values to the standard that my real sister, Rachel, has set. She’s objectively the kindest person on the planet right now-it’s not up for question- and she came here just for the day to watch me try and not mess up, so she deserves a shout out. Rachel has this effect on people where she makes everyone she talks to feel worthwhile and she somehow sees promise in everyone, even people like me who can’t ask a poignant question unless it relates to the day’s schedule or my next meal. Sisterhood is seeing potential in others, even when they can’t see it in themselves.
And with this huge, beautiful, kind adopted family sitting in front of me, I’ve realized another thing about our community. Sisterhood is being joyful together. Whether it’s a senior processing in together with a new fourth grader during the opening cathedral or the upper school congregating for hymn sings, or the middle schoolers trying to put on a skit during music day, or simply a group of girls eating chicken on a stick at flower mart and realizing what true happiness is: we do a lot of happy things, together. At this school there is an incredibly and impressively tight knit community that exists on so many levels. It’s remarkably important that we don’t lose sight of the joy that comes from being with one another, from being together.
And coming off of the 100 day celebration last week and realizing how quickly my time here is coming to a close, I feel now more than ever that fierce sense of community here, which is uniquely impressive.
However, there is one detail in this picture of sisterhood that oftentimes doesn’t line up with our daily reality. I think the hardest, and yet the most important, facet of sisterhood is admiring one another without jealousy.
I think that the way in which we talk about this school is oftentimes paradox to the ways in which we act—we are supportive of everyone’s success, but are expected to be the most successful of everyone, right?
We should cheer for the winners, but we should be the winners, right?
There is an undeniable culture of competition here and, honestly, there will be in any environment in which you put 600 smart, talented, and highly motivated individuals into one building. But, sometimes it feels like you have to be competitive to even be a part of this community. And I think that this can undermine the larger sense of sisterhood here that I’ve just spent so long exemplifying for you.
Now, I know that exercising absolute admiration is easier said than done and I’ll the first to point out that I am a sore loser- just ask anyone who has ever played a board game with me. Ever.
And I’m definitely not to the point where I can be selflessly supportive. In fact, I realized just how far I have to go when I was at a college event a few weeks ago. The coordinator stopped all of our awkward small talk and attempts at ice-breaking conversations in order to give us “a sense of the people we were in the room with.”
He began listing select accomplishments of anonymous students in the group. This litany included things like being published authors, presenting policy about food deserts in congress, curing cancer, and the like. Completely dumbfounded, I turned to the kid next to me and jokingly asked which one of those descriptions he inspired. He said, “I built the prosthetic arm for NASA.” And I left the event exactly 10 seconds later. That feeling of absolute unworthiness was so disorienting and quite frankly, terrifying.
But, when I was on the car ride home, I realized how extraordinarily lucky I am to be able to put myself in positions where I can be surrounded by people who are so much cooler than me. At this school and, as I’m starting to realize, after this school, you will meet a lot of kinder, smarter, and more talented people than you.
And that is a good and great thing.
You always hear that you are the average of the people you surround yourself with, and I do believe that to an extent. But, I can’t accept it fully. Though I’d like to think that some traits of my friends and my sister and my teachers have maybe, somehow, rubbed off on me, I think that the best part of this community is actually that you don’t have to be everything at every time for everyone.
What a weird concept, right? At NCS, we prioritize excellence, right? You can’t be the second-best because that means you’re the first loser, right?
I think that’s wrong.
Because, as I look around at you guys and think back to Charlotte and Chloe and Ly-Lan’s stories and I consider all of these times where I’ve felt an overwhelming sense of community and sisterhood here, I realize that every single moment where I’ve felt unconditionally loved was because I was with remarkable people. I think the people make this place and if we begin to combat this culture of competiveness, we have the potential to have so many more of these moments of true togetherness.
So, I challenge us all to start recognizing and appreciating each other’s unique traits without making it a personal contest; to compliment someone for the sake of complementing them, not for getting a leg up.
To surround yourself with people who challenge you emotionally and mentally, who question your beliefs, who test your patience, who make you reconsider your actions.
I think that as soon as we stop competing and start collaborating with the people who astound us and inspire us--at that point, we become a sisterhood.
Once we recognize and embrace and admire our differences, we begin to realize that a community exists here, which will transcend our time and memories on the close.
Sisterhood is surrounding yourself with remarkable people; it’s admiring each other unconditionally; it’s pushing yourself to succeed, but not until you break; it’s being kind and compassionate and empathetic and together; sisterhood is a beautiful thing and I thank you all for showing me that.