Written by Ashley Austin, Senior Implementation Specialist
The Class of 2020 had a senior year like nothing we have ever experienced before. A global pandemic, economic freefall, and massive nationwide demonstrations for racial equality have defined the last few months of their high school and college experiences.
With that in mind, our team at Aledade decided to celebrate the remarkable achievements of these graduates by holding our own virtual "Aledade Commencement" for family members of Aledade employees who are marking the end of their senior year.
Our celebration featured remarks by Ashley Austin, a Senior Implementation Specialist at Aledade, and her words touched so many of us, that we wanted to share her insights and inspiring comments with everyone on the Aledade blog.
Congratulations, Class of 2020. We can't wait to see where your calling takes you.
Remarks by Ashley Austin
I want to share a story with you of a little girl with big dreams. Her home life was a little less than ideal. Both of her parents had a seventh-grade education level, were far below the poverty line, and fought with addiction her entire childhood. But that didn’t stop this little girl from dreaming. In fact, there were times when her imagination was the only method of escape from a brutal reality. On any given day, you might find her as a princess in a faraway kingdom, a lawyer fighting for justice, or a nurse on a life-saving rescue. The list goes on and on. There was just this stirring deep down inside, calling her to something unknown. Calling her to be someone else. Life was ugly and sometimes cruel but this stirring inside of this child and constant daydreaming somehow weaved light into the darkness of her soul.
I am sharing this story with you today in complete vulnerability because that little girl was me. A little girl with big dreams. Many times, I am asked how I managed to break a generational cycle of trauma and abuse.
Despite a less than ideal upbringing, I find it inspiring that in rare moments of clarity, my father used to look at me through empty and jaded eyes and say “I am never going to add up to much in life, but YOU. You are called to greater things. You are called to bigger things, I just know it.” Life would quickly return to the chaos and mayhem that was my norm but I never forgot those words. They ignited something within me. They allowed me to dream bigger than my circumstances. Over the years I gained a greater understanding of what those words meant.
Chances are, your senior year does not align with all you envisioned as you worked so hard to reach this destination. The graduating class of 2020 has witnessed a global pandemic, an economic crisis, and the immense pain associated with racial injustice. I want to inspire you to view these unprecedented conditions as opportunities. I can’t help but believe you were called here for such a time as this. You have been called to greater things.
I have discovered 4 truths for the 2020 graduating class as you embark on your calling:
Identify and name your calling
A calling should give voice to your talents and gifts. Search your soul for what drives and motivates you. What do you find yourself dreaming about? Dreams are an expression of your potential. And they can change the world. Just think of those famous words from Martin Luther King, Jr., "I have a dream!"
Looking back on my life, my dream was always centered around breaking out of a generational curse and then coming back to serve those in need. I didn’t always know the capacity that would be in, but I knew that when I made it out, I would spend my life serving others. As a teenager, that dream morphed into a calling to become a nurse.
So search your heart and name your calling.
Prepare for, and embrace, adversity in pursuit of your calling.
When I turned 16, my world was turned upside down. My family lost everything due to addiction and I found myself on my own with no outside financial or parental support. I was fortunate enough to have a family member who provided a roof over my head, but they too were a product of this vicious cycle of poverty and the dark, dirty attic of a rundown house was less than ideal. None of us are immune to adversity. In fact, we must learn to expect and embrace it.
Michelle Obama put it this way: “You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it's important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.” When adversity rears its ugly head, let perseverance carry you. Never stop. The odds may be against you but never stop. Diamonds are formed under an immense amount of pressure.
Believe that you are worthy of your calling
For a long time, my identity seemed to be defined for me. The free lunch line at school, the newspaper article about my father’s drug-related criminal charges, being called out of class to the free mobile dental clinic, never having the opportunity to play sports or participate in after-school activities. All of these things impacted the perception I had of myself. If there’s one thing that almost stopped me in my tracks, it was the feeling that I wasn’t worthy of pursuing good things.
I firmly believe that each one of you has been placed in this life, at this specific time to do what only you can do but a lack of self-worth will sabotage your calling. When my middle school age daughter needs advice, I often ask her to reflect on what she would tell her best friend in the same situation. I urge you to be your own best friend. Know your worth and value. Create a loving and forgiving internal dialogue and don’t let anyone or anything else in life define your worth.
When you reach your destination, never forget WHY you were called
Finally, the fourth truth I have learned on the path to my calling is the most important. I rose out of the ashes because I felt a calling within me so strong that it superseded my situation and any adversity that came my way. But why? Why did I fight so hard to break a generational cycle? Of course, I wanted financial stability, a better life for my children and peace. But I also wanted to advocate for those I left behind and be a voice to the voiceless. This took me on paths I couldn’t have possibly imagined and ultimately resulted in my career in public health with Aledade.
Once you have defined your calling, found yourself worthy of that great calling and triumphed in the face of adversity to reach your destination, never, ever forget WHY you traveled so far in life.
So to each of you graduating right now, I want to leave you once again with this final thought.
You have been placed here for such a time as this and we can’t wait to see where your calling leads you.