Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Cohort 7 Graduates - Maureen Lestelle's Speech

Maureen Lestelle
Cohorts 7 Friday, March 22, 2013
Los Angeles Valley College

Welcome President Dr. Sue Carleo, LennieCiufo, and members of the Job Training staff, WorkSource Center Counselors, Trainers, former cohorts, non-profit partners and valued guests.
To my Cohorts: I want to thank you for the absolute privilege of representing you today and for the confidence you have placed in me to be your “voice”. I hope I live up to your expectations. I hope I can get through this without blubbering. On the other hand I hope you remember that “Born to be Wild” is my anthem.
There is an old fairy tale/parable/fable in many cultures that is a very similar story. I am most familiar with the version from India – you may be as well. It is called the Blind Men and the Elephant – for our purposes we’ll say the Blind persons and the Elephant. (I am nothing if not politically correct). I have also shortened it somewhat.
So a certain Raja told his servant to gather blind people and show them an elephant as he wanted to hear how they described it.  Once the people were assembled the Raja said, “Here is the Elephant.” “Tell me what you see.” The first person felt its tusks, the second its ears, the third its leg, and so on through its foot, skin, tail, back and even the tuft on the end of its tail. Then the Raja gathered all the people and said,” So, tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?”
As you can imagine, the answers depended on the body part they touched. One saw a tree because he touched a leg; one saw a rope because he touched the tail, one a wall because of the stomach, one a pipe because of the tusk and so on. They couldn’t agree on what they “saw” because in reality, none of them saw the elephant.
This illustrates that different people have distinctly different perceptions of the same thing. And that people need to develop sensitivity to others’ points of view. They also need to have as much information as possible before coming to a conclusion or forming an opinion.
How does this relate to the cohorts you ask?
 Back at the beginning of January, Keri Luna and Allison Silver choose 22 blind people to become part of Cohort 7.
Each individual saw unemployment or under-employment as part of the elephant. Each person was dealing with their own piece of the elephant – their own angst, their own drama, their own anger, their own isolation, their own financial crisis, their own bewilderment at trying to explain to family members or partners or friends why they couldn’t “just find a job.”
They were so inwardly focused they didn’t realize that right down the block, or around the corner, in the next aisle to the supermarket someone had the same part of the elephant. So through divine intervention or serendipity or through much information or just plain luck – 22 people came together – and “clicked”. Oh, not right away mind you. But It started that first day when we were apprehensive, scared, anxious and defensive (and a little sleep deprived) and Larry made us not only sing but write our own song.
Ahhh! No one knows the power of a common enemy to bring strangers together quickly!
But we stuck it out, and showed up and changed seats and mingled and commiserated-and started to combine our pieces of the elephant so we could have a whole picture. Because without each ‘piece,’ we wouldn’t have had a whole elephant.
So we learned from each other, and supported each other and at times crabbed about each other – but we continued to show up (still sleep deprived by the way). And it got easier to open up and easier to wake up and easier to do our 15th rendition of our dang resume – but most importantly it became easier to reach out to each other.  And we became empowered and more importantly empowered each other, and supported each other and encouraged each other, and cried with each other. And we had each other’s backs. And we found our voices that we had lost.
And nobody but nobody can teach that if it isn’t there – nobody. But we are lucky. And I hope our luck continues.
… Now we are engaged in a great civil war…… Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention..
I asked my cohorts for input and a few points were made.
1)      Administration support was superb – Allison, Keri, Camille, Helen and all.
2)      Instructors were awesome – Lynnette, Larry, Jim, Maxine, Andrea, Tony, Joan, Doug and Roberto. Made our brains start working again and stretched and tested our skills.
3)      As one of us said, I am a bright, shiny penny able to be more flexible and able to clarify my thoughts better.
4)      To remain positive and support each other after today – DO NOT retreat back into isolation-
Reach out!
5)      Keep the Voice you’ve found in the program! Kick butt and take numbers! ( I cleaned that up) Remember – we need your piece of the elephant to make a whole!

I have another quote from a well-known southern philosopher. It’s one I try to remember all the time. I hope the instructors remember this as well. Her name is Naomi Judd. She has one daughter on Dancing with the Stars and the other possibly running for Senator from Kentucky. Her family puts the fun in dysfunctional but she gave me a gem I try to remember.
“Just because you’re riding in the same car don’t mean you’re taking the same vacation”
Think about it – think about siblings in the same home and people in the same class with the same focus. Back to the elephant, everyone sees things differently.
If Cohort 7 were placed in a reality show called Build a Company from Scratch we would win, hands down. Without a question. We have our own in-house counsel, our own CFO, sales, marketing and product branding department covered, HR department covered, project management team covered, customer service department covered, and if we decided on a non-profit we’d have a complete development department along with an education and outreach program. These positions are all V.P., Director and Manager Positions, all we would need is support staff. That’s how good we are.
We don’t need etiquette lessons or financial advice. Most of us can teach budgeting at the master’s level. We have years of experience among us and an incredibly impressive list of degrees and advanced degrees.  What we do need is the respect for what we were and, more importantly, what we will be again. Because WE WILL BE THERE AGAIN. Make no mistake, we will be again.
Even though we are riding in the same car – all of us are taking those different vacations. 
 I’d like to end with a little story that means a great deal to me. I’m having some envelopes passed by a couple of my cohorts. Inside is the “star” that guides me and, I hope, will be of relevance to some of you.
I wear a silver starfish on my ID lanyard from the USO and also on my charm necklace to constantly remind me  of  my purpose, my reason, my rent for living this life regardless of its trials and tribulations.
 My fellow cohorts think of this as you volunteer at the non-profits you’ve chosen. And my honored guests, think of it every time you meet someone who needs an ear, or a hand or a smile. The difference you make can be immeasurable – and you might even never know it. 
There are many versions but for those of you who are unfamiliar with the starfish story it goes like this:
A rough and terrible storm came up one night and left a sandy beach strewn with hundreds of dead and dying starfish. The next morning, in the bright after storm light, a child walked along the shore stopping every few feet to pick up a starfish and fling it back into the ocean.
An old man out walking his dog watched the child for some time and finally shouted at him.
“Hey there, why are you bothering with that? There are too many starfish on the beach. How can you possibly think you make a difference?”
With that the boy looked down, quietly picked up another starfish and looked at it intently before heaving it out to sea. 
Then, with a solemn look on his face, slowly turned to the old man and said, “It made a difference to that one.”
IT MADE A DIFFERENCE TO THAT ONE.  It’s not that it made a difference to hundreds, or thousands of starfish but it made a difference to that one.
Sometimes in life we’ll be the starfish. I like to think LA Fellows came for some of us right in the nick of time and threw us back into the deep blue – able to breathe once more and ready to try again with renewed hope and purpose.
Sometimes we’ll be the little boy. When we have that opportunity, throw as far as you can – because it will make a difference to that one.
Thank you again for the honor and opportunity to represent you, my fellow Cohorts 7. I hope I’ve used the opportunity well and been able to voice the words you asked me voice for you.

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