To my Life Changers

graduation (1)In January, I took a train from Brussels to London to attend my graduation ceremony.

Most of my peers from all over the world announced they would come with both their parents; someone even had to buy extra tickets for other relatives who had the chance to join them during that important day.

As for me, my sister was the only one able to attend. She helped me get ready in the morning, took pictures, and stood up to applaud when, finally, I clumsily walked the stage and greedily grabbed my diploma, feeling as proud as Simba in the ending scene of the Lion King. While fiercely walking along the Pride Rock towards the tip, probably Simba must have thought about his parents who, like mine, were not there with him during that important day of his life.

On the other hand, both I and Simba know the big role our parents played in order for us to live such a moment.

I was born and raised in a place where no matter the efforts I made at school, I could not get better than a less-than-average grade. I was not disappointed by the result as I knew how much I worked for it. What made me sad was that the result represented a system of nepotism, according to which you never need to be better than the important people’s children. Until the day I started school, my parents had imprinted in me the idea that education is pivotal . Then I went to school, and I actually realized that in the real world studying was somehow pointless.

I continuously asked my parents what was the point in working hard if the world goes like that. I was very confused, I did not understand who was right and who was not.

In the following years, I would have learnt both were. For in the world there are two categories of people: those who need and want to work hard and those who simply do not. And this applies no matter where you are. My parents, who never experienced living anywhere but my hometown, explained to me that I had to study regardless of the outcome because knowledge is more precious than anything else on Earth, and therefore any sacrifice to get more of it was worth being done.

That is exactly the reason why they had me enrolled in that university in London, but on the other hand they were unable to attend the related graduation ceremony.

Unlike my parents, I needed to travel a lot in order to grasp such a lesson. So I moved to Rome, then to Brussels, then London, then Brussels again, and finally I moved to Beirut. I found out, no matter where one goes, there will always be two types of people: those who did not work to be on top and yet become on top, and those who are on top because they worked hard and they are the best at what they do. My mother –who barely finished high school but at the same time is eager to read authors like Plato, Aristotle and Freud during her free time— used to tell me that, also concluding with: “No matter where you are, at the end of the day you are the one who makes the difference”.

I came back to reality, staring at the red velvet carpet I was walking on, the degree in my hand, surrounded by my colleagues’ numerous family members. I raised my head and looked at my sister, who was sitting alone. For the rest of the ceremony, I kept wondering what would I be if I were not born in the family I was born.

Same as I cannot imagine what would I be if I had not met some people I encountered throughout my life. I am referring to the very few, who have changed me so much. Most of the time without knowing it. We think we are the masters of our fate, and we are: it is the choices we make that lead us to some people instead of others. On the other hand, once we do meet these people they inevitably influence our lives, shaping them forever. For better and for worse. Sometimes for the best.

Kelly Petillo is a regional intern at the World Youth Alliance Middle East.