“What do you dream to be?” the little girl asked me as we sifted through her human anatomy book. The question caught me off guard; specifically the way she had strung together the sentence like a string of pearls. She was learning English, little by little, and every Saturday morning I was helping her. Sweet but shy, the little girl from Burundi had come to America just six months before and was now donned as a “refugee.” Our tutoring sessions were a mixture of lessons from her tattered textbooks, where I would teach her the sugary sounds of vowels and consonants and we would engage in games over flashcards. She savored each sound in a manner uncommon to anything that I had ever seen before.
What do you dream to be? It was different than anything I had ever heard before, not the typical “what will you do when you get out of college,” but a greater possibility of dreaming and being. Granted she had phrased the question this way because it was the only way she knew how, but I still regard it as the most beautiful question that has ever been presented to me; a question that opened my eyes to my full potential.
Perhaps too often we forget to dream. Dreaming is packed up and put away in the attic with the old stuffed animals and finger-paint pictures from childhood, collecting cobwebs as we head off to college to study hard for a good occupation. We prepare ourselves for the practical lifestyle, one where we pay off the loans that are already taunting us from a distance, one where we can call ourselves “successful.” However, the real question is, how many of us are working towards the dreams we had as children? Although there are those dreams that we grow out of like old winter coats, the dreams to be the astronaut or the ballerina, there are still those dreams in all of us that fill our souls with a sense of purpose. These dreams fire us up and give us a passion that cannot be summed up even with the entire vocabulary of a dictionary.
I never admit this to anyone, but when I came to Assumption College I forfeited my dreams. My junior year of high school I began the intimidating task of finding a college that would be the perfect fit. Most people would turn to the guidance counselor, the parent or the all-common CollegeBoard website. I turned to the editor of Seventeen Magazine, my role model, Atoosa Rubenstein. I spent days constructing a letter to her, pouring my whole self into this letter as expressed my hopes and dreams to become a successful writer and one day see my name imprinted on the New York Time’s Bestseller list.
I have carried this dream throughout childhood. My dream was born when I began writing a weekly newspaper for my neighbors and quickly became infatuated with “Hannah’s News.” My dream learned to walk as I wrote novels for my family members every Christmas. I would spend the nine months before Christmas writing elaborate stories and the last two months copying, binding and publishing my work. Now I was ready to go off to college and let my dream grow up with me.
To my surprise, I received a letter back a few short weeks later. It was a personal and heartfelt response where the editor of Seventeen gave me all the advice I could need to start my quest for the perfect college. Her practical advice: Come to school in New York City, the best place in the country for writing internships that would really get my foot in the door.
This advice carried me through the selection process. I was adamant over attending school in the Big Apple. But when it came down to a choice I did not feel a sense of comfort at New York University or Fordham, I found this comfort in Worcester, Massachusetts. I wish I could say that was that, that I found my happy ending in the rolling hills of the Assumption College campus. But for two years I did just the opposite.
I gave up on writing. I refused to write creatively in anyway. I disregarded any pleas by the school news paper to write an article. I could not bring myself to write because I didn’t deserve to. I was not in New York City so I had failed my dream already. Regardless of if people would encourage to pick up the pen and paper, I repeated in my head over and over again, “If you really wanted this dream then you should have gone to New York City, Hannah.”
Why do we do this? Why do we take the dreams that we protect so much in our own hearts and then we are the ones who shatter them into a million little pieces? A lot of the time we want to draw our dreams upon a chalkboard that is bigger than the sky and then painstakingly erase them ourselves. Why, because we don’t deserve these dreams. We are not good enough for these dreams. They are stupid. They are unrealistic. They are childish.
But they are ours. They are unique and handcrafted by us. They keep us up at night with possibility. They make us smile. We can shovel our doubts and our ideas of limitation upon them if we want, and watch them struggle and be buried by the “can’t”s and the “won’t”s. But if we do this, if we ignore our dreams, there is a good chance that we will never pick them up again. They may leave us forever. At the end of the day that is our loss and no one else’s. We are the ones that have to live with our unfulfilled dreams. And so we make a decision. We pick them up, we hold them up, we give ourselves up to them.
So I am not in New York City. So what? I have a fire in my heart and a passion in my soul. I have found something that fulfills me every single day. I don't need a specific location to be a writer, to reach people and to inspire others. I can do that right here and right now. I will take care of my dreams. They were given to me for a reason and the least I can do is make them a reality.
And so like the beautiful girl from Burundi who posed the question to me, I pose it to all of you: What do you dream to be...?