I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you. In 5th grade you always showed you cared about your students.
I believe that women have the ability to support and pave roads for other women despite global barriers and linguistic differences. Not only do I believe this, but I see it as a personal responsibility to provide young women abroad with the same opportunities that allowed me to succeed academically and professionally in the US. I am passionate about women’s empowerment and mentorship in the field of education because I know from personal experience how many doors education can open for a young woman seeking new opportunities. I want to pay tribute to the young women I mentor who work so hard toward their goals and passions to succeed in an environment that is unknown to them in the US. They jump many barriers and push themselves to limits many people never dream of and they deserve recognition for all their hard work and self-sacrifice.
It is sometimes difficult for me to realize the great amount of privilege and fortune I have had receiving a free, high-quality education in the United States. I certainly took it for granted at the time and loathed waking up in the morning to learn about basic math or reading, and what eventually became literature, geography and politics. We can easily lose perspective of what is truly important and how the success of our futures is really just built on the foundation of something as basic as elementary school. The older I became and the more I travelled as a young adult, the more passionate I became about educational and cultural exchange—especially between the US and Azerbaijan. This country exposed me to wonderful opportunities and some of the most inspirational students (who in fact, I was supposed to be inspiring to study in the US) and I will never forget this experience for the rest of my life. I want to pay tribute to the kind, visionary and passionate young women I met working as a mentor in Azerbaijan at local universities. I arrived fully prepared to guide and mentor young women to study in the United States, but I learned so much more about authentic female empowerment and the important role that educational opportunities play for female students’ wishing to change the direction of their lives.
I have always been passionate about teaching and mentorship, but never seemed to be so fond of the rigorous academic aspect, and instead treasured the human bonds and inspirational networks that formed when students and teachers were passionate about the same educational goals. I value my students in Azerbaijan as an academic mentor because I know that the hard skills I teach to apply for universities or scholarships is always going to be met with enthusiastic energy and curious eyes that wonder what studying or working in the US could possibly be like. This is the most rewarding part of my job—watching a young girl’s eyes light up and her pencil suddenly jot down all her favorite high school subjects that she may want to pursue as a freshman at a US university.
I choose to be a mentor because truthfully, I wish I had one at such a young, impressionable age, and that’s no secret. I tell my students every day that I choose this profession because I had no guidance as a first-generation student in America. I had to build my own bridges and do my own research, but I want to see my students succeed even more than me and reach goals beyond what I could have even imagined for myself by providing them with access to resources at an even earlier age. I love providing lists and lists of scholarship opportunities, research grants, university programs and language courses for my students because I know that early access to these opportunities will have a greater potential to change lives. And in return, seeing my students perk up and watching their dreams expand before my eyes is something every person should experience and can experience.
My sincere passion is to not only continue paving an academic route for young women in Azerbaijan and prepare them for the long, academic journey ahead, but to also keep in touch and follow up with them after they depart. Supporting women and their goals is not a one stop project—in order to truly be successful with providing young women professional and education opportunities abroad, it is vital to follow up with the students to ensure they are not discouraged by unforeseen obstacles, have not lost sight of their short and long term goals and continue speaking with someone who has experienced a similar situation. Being a mentor is more than being a leader—mentors can also be a reflection of their future students’ success and that is the most impressionable aspect of this job by far.
Ultimately, I hope that my tribute to my students in turn becomes a tribute to their own future students in the years to come. Whether my students chose to be teachers, lawyers, businesswomen, or anything else, above all, I hope they become mentors. I hope their inspiring stories and determination to succeed are used as examples for generations to come, and I hope they see in others what I see in them. It is without a doubt that I continue doing what I do because of their consistent progress and love for life and their mysterious future that keeps me going and inspires me. Every girl deserves to have a motivating woman as a mentor in their life to provide guidance, advice and encouragement during every step of their young academic or professional careers. At times, I forget how vulnerable and impressionable I was as a young girl until I see my students and realize that adults have every power to make or break a young girl’s future. If we passionately encourage growth and learning in women from a young age then I promise we will be left inspired by what is to come. I will never underestimate the power of my students and I encourage anyone reading this tribute to my very inspirational young girls to begin mentoring marginalized groups in your local communities. It is the most rewarding and unforgettable experience I have had!
When I was young, I really battled to make friends. People were scary - kids even scarier - and most of the time, I'd only manage to overcome my social anxiety if the situation was particularly appealing. I had many embarrassments, though, because even when I was brave enough to join in with kids who were doing something awesome, I'd inevitably back out halfway through and go for a convenient walk. Or hide in the school library, pretending to choose a new Nancy Drew book. I felt too small (I was) and I was quite certain that everyone would think I was weird if I spoke. I was as zen as a lotus pose on the outside, but on the inside, I felt underwater, completely disconnected, one hundred percent alien. When high school loomed, I did not know how I was going to make it through that first year.
And then along came Shelley. She was half my weight, two inches shorter and in the first week of high school, managed to get herself hung from a locker room hook by her blazer collar. I'm not even saying she didn't deserve it. My heart has immediately jumped to the words 'That's my best friend'.
They say opposites attract and whoever said it first was thinking about romantic relationships, but this is a story that applies to my lifelong friendship with Shelley. From now on, I'm going to call her Pixie Girl - that's my name for her. In truth, I was far too shy to present nicknames to the few friends I cared for, but I needn't have worried with Shelley, as she provided the name herself (shew!). She was Pixie Girl and I was Fairy Girl. These names represented wild and fearless creatures who, although petite, had wolf hearts and could face any mountain together. We needn't speak about how old we were when we came to this conclusion; what matters is that I found the most enduring and profound friendship of my life in this tiny scrap of a girl who had a big mouth and a devil-may-care attitude. Also, she was sweet, had a beautiful smile and thought I was cool. Because of my Pixie, I didn't have to be the only girl who did not fit in.
We discovered similarities between us that were sufficient to base a friendship on: despite our awkwardness and completely different personalities, we were both cute blondes who the other kids actually liked; our moms shared the same pretty name and the same 'outrageous' rules; our dads both played the guitar. We came from the same faith and in the nearby primary school, our younger sisters had met and were planning sleepovers.
As the quintessential 'little angel' in school, myself, I could not fathom why this pixie-sized girl could not control her mischievous cheek that resulted in all sorts of punishments - such as being stuffed in a locker by Zak - but it fascinated and thrilled me. I came to realise that Pixie embodied my secret yearning to be a rebel. Because of my morbid fear of teachers, I didn't dare behave with her good-natured recklessness at school, but she gave me the courage to start thinking of ways to challenge my own restrictions. This is the first thing I want to thank her for: making me braver.
Pixie Girl and I balanced each other and it was very sad for us when life separated us for a while. She came to my wedding when I was just 18, but then I took off into the wilds to be adventurous with my new husband. I lost touch and wasn't at her wedding. Seven years later, we were both single mothers and found our way back together again. To our amazement, we had led parallel lives during those missing years. I would say that this post-divorce stage was the most painful and difficult time of my youth and I really battled depression, but once again, Pixie was there to give me strength. The years had completely transformed her physically - she now towered over me and looked like a ramp model - but her sass, positivity and confidence remained.
My entire adult life had been about my kids and I was very awkward with suddenly meeting new people, but she was the one who took my hand, dragged me out and made me look normal in public! Anything I needed to talk about, Pixie was the one who sat without judgement and gave counsel that actually made practical sense. When I'd been hurt and sat at work feeling depleted, Pixie was a comforting voice on the phone - not the sympathetic voice of my mom, but a voice that suggested outrageous solutions, making me burst into happy laughter. When that didn't work, she e-mailed me pictures of firemen. She was my superhero.
Many years have passed and we've both seen our share of tragedy. When I met the love of my life and he passed away less than two years after our wedding, there was only one person I trusted to identify the frozen body. I knew it was him - he had died in my arms - but I was as destroyed as a person can be and needed to be told that I wasn't imagining it all. I loved my mom dearly and she was there, but I needed Pixie to perform this sacred deed for me. Pixie loved my husband and she was distraught, too, but she loved me more. I made a request of her that few would have been able to go through with: cut a lock of his hair and bring it to me. She did it. She endured the subsequent nightmares and never once told me it was my fault.
Pixie and I do not live in the same city now, but we are still as close as we ever were after more than two decades. She has saved me countless times when my social awkwardness has landed me in hot water, or when I've had my heart broken, or when I was falling apart over something my child was going through. I'm still waiting to be brave enough to sing at a karaoke bar, but I know she's going to be at my side when I do it. After all, she overcame her own fear of singing completely alone: she just drove herself to a karaoke bar, chose a song, faced the blood-draining terror of an audience and started singing. She's like that: she just does it. I guess I'm still trying to figure out why she needs me, but I know that she does. I'm the one she calls when something amazing happens and I'm the one she calls when things are rough. That this woman trusts me enough to actually believe I have any answers at all, makes her wonderful to me!
Today is her birthday and this tribute is to say thank you. Thank you for a lifetime of being there, whether we lived close-by or in different states. Pixie is the most faithful friend I have ever had; the most fun, the least judgmental, the bravest, the most thoughtful, and if I ever have to run a race of atonement, she is the one I will trust to pull me over the finish line with dignity. I love you, friend. Happy birthday!
Thank you for surviving the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Your service in the 11th Hussars and Mounted Police makes me feel proud and want to help others.
I am grateful that upon calling your descendant Diana Beeson it was possible to have memories that evening of your descendant Ursula Beeson that I cherish.
In your memory, I have done my best to fulfill a request I received in Stratford upon Avon from a grandfather 'take care of Alice' which I have interpreted as 'All'.
From a young age, I have been more interested in defence than attack and this links to Individuals who with a team, including your descendant Tom, acheived great things:
We can be proud and thankful of 'Stuffy' and 'Skipper' as designer and implementer, with the team in the air and on the ground, of a key defensive force in making the world a better place, for even members of the attacking force.
'Aunty Judy', that's the name I grew up calling her. Her real name is Judith Elisabeth Cochran, an American woman with a heart of gold.
Why is this Texan woman so important to me?
Because I couldn't be where I am today without her. She lit up my world. Saw greatness and goodness where most people saw mediocrity. She gave me an unconditional love I once thought was humanly impossible. And through her, most of my childhood experiences are worth reminiscing.
I first met Judy in 1997. She had come to Mbita, a small town in the shores of Lake Victoria, Kenya, to volunteer at the school where I went to. I was only 5 years old then. Before her, I had only seen two white people. She was the third, and my teacher. To say I was fascinated may be an understatement.
My fascination was a little to the extreme and she reminded me many years later about how mesmerized by her foreign accent, I would imitate every word she spoke as she taught. All the other students would just stare at her in awe. Confusion maybe. My confidence, childish naughtiness, and eagerness to learn made her take a liking to me.
Over the years, Judy has been like a mother to me-protective, helpful, always wanting the best for me. Growing up in a chaotic household where I was subjected to a lot of bullying, she became the refuge I would run to. When the bullying continued into my adult years, I still ran to her. She listened, she advised, she stood by me and most importantly, she loved me through it all.
Growing up, my parents never paid a shilling towards my education. Not because they were irresponsible, but because Judy took up that responsibility. From kindergarten right through high school, she paid every shilling of my school fees without ever mentioning it. I am ashamed to say that I wasn't as grateful as I should have been. Several times, I took her for granted. Do you know what her response was to my teenage arrogance? More love, more patience, more forgiveness. Sometimes I think she might have contemplated dropping all the support she was giving me. I have never asked her. One day I will.
In the most recent years, Aunty Judy has remained the wonderful, gracious and loving woman that she was when I met her 22 years ago. She is amongst the first people I call with good or bad news. I am convinced now more than ever that her love for me is as pure and genuine as can ever be.
When my new friends ask me about her. I tell them she is my mentor. However, my old friends know her as my second mother. They call her "my white lady" sometimes. I don't mind that. And I'm sure she won't if she finds out. Over the years Judy's presence in my life has been a breath of fresh air. I look up to her and I am convinced now more than ever that when I grow up, I want to turn out just like her.
My little sister Jasmine is getting married this weekend.
Sisters are special, regardless of their age. They hold our hands and drive us to be better every day. I cherish the relationship I have with you, my little sister. I remember how excited I was when my mother came back home, holding you in her arms. I threw away all my dolls because I had gotten a sibling to play with. We have grown together and created a bond that cannot be broken no matter what. The things we have gone through have made us closer and tighter than before. I still cannot believe it that my little sister is getting married. The little girl I used to torture and tease around now has a new last name. We are both getting old Jasmine!
We played behind the small incomplete building with our friends, making mud pancakes and houses. We shared our little secrets that we could not even tell mummy while holding our little hands. As we grew older, we shared the growing pains and challenges of boarding and high school. How can I forget the times we clashed with each other during the holidays when you wanted to watch your favorite cartoons. Remember the days when daddy punished us for fighting over the remote? And we would take our porridge or tea without sugar for fighting? It taught us to agree even when our opinions or desires varied. I believe this has contributed to our strong bond even in our adult years. I cannot forget the library days when I got hungry as soon as we entered the library doors, and you used to get angry at me. I would force you to go out for lunch a few hours after.
Remember the hours in your campus days when we sat in the night talking about our lives and dreams. About the guy, you would want to get married to and the number of children you wanted. And, we would laugh at the many kids you wanted to have. We imagined a focused, kind, caring, and loving man to share your wedding day and marriage. My little sister, I am so happy that you got the kind of man you have always dreamed and prayed for. Your wedding is an indication that some things will eventually end. But, you are excited and happy, and I cannot help but extend my sincere best wishes to you two. I love you, my little sister, and I am thankful to God for blessing me with a sister like you!
Tears run down my chin today when I saw you in your wedding dress. And, as you walked slowly towards your husband, I saw you walking into your next life sister. I want to say that I am happier for you than you can imagine. My little sister, I want you to know that marriage works as long as you commit to working through the small or big fights. You are going to argue over little things as you get used to the new arrangement of marriage. But, that does not mean that you are doomed; it is normal. Remember to practice empathy and avoid going to bed angry at each other. You should never forget the things that made your husband fall in love with you and work towards making them better by the day.
Congratulations on your wedding, my little sister! I cherish you!