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What can I do as a teen to make a difference?

There once was once a man named Dennis Gomez. He lived, as his children have said, an adventurous life.

He worked in the lumber industry, nearly all his life, but at the tail end, he began to get more involved with his Church and his community.

He was on the board of the missions committee at his community Church; he was a part of the leadership team for Celebrate Recovery and he volunteered with Rotary.

Every year, Mr. Gomez would march into our little private school, throw down some papers onto Father Foos’ desk, and say “I have this year’s speech topic for you,” and he would then organize the time and date with our headmaster, that we would host the speech contest.

As the date drew nearer, and nearer, Mr. Gomez would always ask me, after Church, or in the grocery store, “How’s your speech coming?” He always asked me (and other students in our community) if we wanted help, and would often give us St. Andrew’s Students, lectures on what Rotary does in our community, that we might use the information in our speeches.

I remember one year I had won the local Rotary speech contest and had been preparing for the area contest, the date was changed giving me only one day to prepare for my presentation.

I tried my best to memorize my speech in time, but alas, I skipped half of it, and lost my footing too many times to be selected for the finals.

Mr. Gomez felt that I had not been given a fair chance, and went to bat for me. After many calls and e-mails, he informed me that I had been selected as a back up, meaning, if any of the other contestants in the finals could not make it, I would be called in to speak.

This year, Mr. Gomez began his routine again as he came in one day with the Rotary Speech Topic, and delivered it to Father Foos.

This year, however, we received no lecture on the good works of Rotary.

We received no offer of advice from the helpful Mr. Gomez because he had a stroke during his heart surgery, and three days later, on Dec. 8, he died.

The life of this kind, generous and loving man is proof enough to me that Rotary is making a difference.

The speech topic for this year requires that I should talk about myself, and the differences I have made.

The problem with that is that most people my age, truth be told, haven’t done much to make a difference.

The first thing that needs to be accomplished for our generation to make an impact is a transformation of our own character, and the easiest way to accomplish this, is practice and experience.

When I was 6 years old, my father told us that we were moving.

This seemed reasonable enough to my 6-year-old mind, until I heard where we were moving.

When he told me we were going to be missionaries in South America, I completely broke down.

I was devastated!

But then I remember flying into the Airport in Quito, Ecuador, and thinking, “Oh! This is quite nice!”

I had been expecting mud huts with tribal dances and cannibals, but there I was amidst a thriving metropolis.

That was one of my first lessons: Do not fear the unknown.

After making some friends at the international school there, I was surprised to find myself enjoying living cross-culturally.

The mission organization that my parents worked with put them in charge of the “Semester Abroad” program, where my parents would teach college students from the U.S. about Ecuador, teach them Spanish and take them to visit different regions of the small costal country.

I would always go with them and whenever they went to the jungle to build houses in the rain I would also accompany them.

Whenever they went to the beach, to relax, I would go too, even if school was still in session.

I made sure I didn’t miss a single trip, and that was my second big lesson: Try to take every opportunity to interact with people.

Throughout our time in Ecuador, we would often visit family and friends during the summer and once or twice, we visited for a whole semester.

Whenever I would come back, I would see the same people that I knew from my previous life, but I would find that they were totally different.

When I was in the eighth grade, we had decided to come back to California for the first semester of school and I was enrolled at St. Andrew’s Academy.

My cousin and I, both of us having changed quite drastically, did not see eye-to-eye as we used to when we were young.

To be quite honest, I treated him very unkindly and the great friendship that we had had in the past, was falling to pieces.

Many people tried to get me to realize this, but I never did understand what I was doing wrong.

It later hit me: I was more focused on myself.

I had made all my decisions based upon what I wanted, not what my cousin needed.

That was my third big lesson: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

It was that semester that made my parents decide to move back to our hometown.

They saw the excellent education that St. Andrew’s provided, and wanted my sister and I to benefit from such an education.

We went back to Ecuador to finish up my eighth grade year, said goodbye to all of our friends, and headed for the mountains of California.

At first, I was excited for the transition, but then I experienced a real education, and a real education requires homework.

St. Andrew’s kicked my academic behind into motion, and there seemed to be no rest stop.

I was so stressed my freshman year, that I thought I would die of exhaustion.

But, by the grace of God, and by the help and encouragement of my parents and my classmates, I pulled through.

From that experience comes my fourth lesson: When life kicks you to the ground, get up and keep going.

My high school years have flown by and it feels like yesterday that I traveled with the St Andrew’s choir to England, to Germany and New York City.

I am now a senior, and the biggest question everyone has been asking, is “What are you going to do? How are you going to make an impact on the world?”

My only answer is, by learning.

To learn by experience, by failure even, what needs to be done.

To learn that life is not about me, but about how I can serve, and the best way to learn how to serve, is by practice and by experience.

I am going to close with a verse that Father Foos, our headmaster at St. Andrew’s has had us memorize.

This verse encapsulates everything that I need to do to make an impact. It is the epitome of my calling as a high-school student.

“My Brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things.”

Thank You.

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