Why HOBY Is An Amazing Part Of My Life Two Years Later

Why HOBY Is An Amazing Part Of My Life Two Years Later

I still have the "HOBY spirit."

Chances are that if you’ve seen me at all in the past two years, you’ve heard me mention HOBY. And it’s likely been more than once, possibly even to the point where it’s annoying.

People often ask me what exactly this "HOBY thing" is, and I can’t tell you how often I’m at a total loss for words. “It’s a leadership seminar,” I’ll eventually stammer, getting a polite smile and nod in response before the subject is changed.

But that’s not quite it. Not even close. Just a scratch at the surface, really.

But for these people, I keep it simple, hoping that I can somehow communicate to them in the way I get excited about this thing and the way that my eyes light up that THIS is the place where I found my tribe. That this is the place that has moved my voice closer to my lips.

It’s impossible to describe HOBY for a multitude of reasons, one of which being the detail and depth I’d have to go into to even begin to try to explain is far too great for the small talk it typically makes an appearance in.

Also, we HOBYs kinda like this ambiguous little secret of ours, both frustrated and pleased that we have such a hard time helping others to understand this other family of ours and the place we’ve found that we belong––––this place where you discover the best version of yourself.

Lately I’ve been resorting to calling it a “utopia” but that’s really not it either. That makes it sound too much like a cult, but with the fervor my fellow alums and I speak about it with, one might just start to wonder.

So really the best way I can describe it is by calling it “an ineffable wonder” but by definition, I’m really not describing it at all.

I attended the HOBY New York West seminar at the University of Rochester in May of 2014, where I heard one of the Lost Boys of Sudan speak, cleaned up Mount Hope Cemetery, got poison ivy, wrote, directed and performed a skit all in half an hour, stole bandanas and candy off of neighboring groups’ tables (harboring quite a collection from each by the end of the weekend), and laughed when our table was stolen out of revenge one night during dinner. I had had a nice time, but I wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about.

And then I was introduced to the WLC, or World Leadership Congress.

I wasn’t going to go at first, discovering four days after signing up that it was the same week as a summer course I was planning on taking at a local university. But after mulling over my options for several days (and, let’s be honest, crying) I decided on the World Leadership Congress.

Every minute I got closer to departing for Chicago, the more the dread came in and the fear settled in my stomach. I cried the night before, afraid of flying on a plane for the first time in eleven years to a huge city I’d never been to before.

But it was like that the night I left to go back home, too, and it had nothing to do with the plane ride, and everything to do with the fear of leaving this place. This version of me.

And now, I’d give anything to go back. To be traipsing around Chicago with twelve of my favorite people--ones who are unapologetically themselves and incredibly enthusiastic about everything--by my side. Screaming ridiculous cheers at the top of our lungs down the street. Making Canadian jokes. Untangling ourselves from human knots.

The thing about HOBY is that everyone you meet has this genuine love and care for you. It is a place where I instantly felt connected and understood, even though I was meeting these four hundred twenty-five other people for the very first time.

What I loved about my week in Chicago was just how incredibly open and welcoming everyone was. By the end of the week, you really felt like had known the people in your group for years and had experienced some of their hardships with them. I had finally found what my favorite author Marina Keegan calls “the opposite of loneliness.”

HOBY is a place that challenges you and your beliefs for the betterment of both yourself and the world. Bringing together about 430 ambassadors from 16 different countries, it enables ambassadors to learn that we all have much more in common than we ever could have imagined, despite coming from so many different corners of the globe.

People often ask me what you do at this leadership thing, and I never know how to describe it without making it seem dull. Because it wasn't. We listened to speakers and created websites and nonprofits and thought about ways to solve world problems. We explored Chicago and wrote notes and danced and sang crazy cheers and played ridiculous games. We updated our social media pages and took too many pictures and hugged everyone we met. We engaged in service projects and discussions. We slept too little and smiled too much. We laughed so hard we were sore the next day. We cried until our tears ran out. It was exhilarating.

At night, I would crawl in bed, exhausted, but joyfully so. That’s when I would contact my family. But my home life felt so far away and so unreal. It made it hard to think about coming home--leaving this place and saying goodbye to these people. This version of myself. Me, a homebody, couldn’t imagine coming home to her family in just a few days.

It’s no wonder ambassadors talk about “HOBY hangovers” and “withdrawals” and creating an island only for HOBYs to live on social media every once in a while. We celebrate our anniversaries like high school couples and, in our friends’ opinions, gush about it too much.

Getting off the plane and seeing my family again for the first time in eight days, after all of this, was surreal. I felt like a pair of pants that shrank in the wash––––I just didn’t fit anymore. And of course coming home begged the question, “What are you going to do with this?” I didn’t have the answers to that then, and honestly I’m not sure I do now. I was terrified of losing this other side of me, scared that I’d fall back into my normal routine and everything I had gained would be lost. The staff had warned us of this, scheduling a presentation entitled “Life After HOBY” on one of the last days. “You might feel like you don’t quite belong when you get back,” they said, assuring us that this was normal.

I remember going to Wegmans after reuniting with my family and having to resist the urge not to rush up to a person looking at bread and tell them my name and ask them where they were from. It took a lot of effort not to get up, put my hands over my head and start shouting “O-U-T-S-T-A-N-D-I-N-G OUT-OUT-OUTSTANDING” at the top of my lungs whenever someone asked me how my day was or if I liked my pizza. I’m not sure if this is what the staff were talking about, but it was definitely far from normal.

I’ve been on multiple trips and sports teams before and since, and while I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them, I’ve never felt as connected to these people as I have to HOBYs.

Oftentimes the leaders at these events boast that this new experience will be the best one of your life, so when “HOBY Daddy” Russ Tanguay told all 426 of us ambassadors in a conference room at Loyola University of Chicago that “a week from now, you’re going to wish that you were back in this room on July 19th, 2014 at 8:32 pm CT” I was skeptical. But, I can’t even begin to tell you how right he was. It's been two years since that date and I still remember the exact time.

I still post about it on social media and engage in Google Hangouts to catch up and commemorate that day. I volunteer as a Junior Counselor at New York West every year, eager to inspire high school sophomores just as much as my counselors inspired me and keep my HOBY spirit going.

In this day in age, when we are surrounded by violence and hateful acts and a crazy presidential race, it's comforting to know that those of different cultures, religions, views and backgrounds can all come together respectfully and peacefully and learn how to lead together for the betterment of our local and global communities.

HOBY has not only challenged me, but given me confidence, lifelong friends, a love of service, and a place where I belong. Being able to give back to the organization that taught me how to reach my full potential and granted me the opposite of loneliness is one of the most outstanding feelings in the world.

Cover Image Credit: hoby.org

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Our Big, Blue, Plastic Planet Needs Our Love

It's time we fell back in love with planet Earth.

Our Earth is sick, and we are to blame.

During the Industrial Revolution, coal became a popular energy resource. The excessive burning of this fossil fuel has released significantly higher than natural levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing a dramatic increase in global temperatures and air pollution.

Air pollution is the deadliest form of pollution, killing millions of people per year. A shocking 92 percent of people live in places where the air pollution exceeds safe limits. Breathing in these toxic fumes may cause diseases such as asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and emphysema. Children are especially vulnerable to air pollution-related diseases due to their increased time spent playing outdoors and their developing immune system.

The increase of CO2 in the atmosphere is also causing the global climate to warm, which is melting the polar ice caps. Significant amounts of water are stored in ice caps and glaciers across the planet, and if it all were to melt, the sea level would rise 70 meters, enough to cover every coastal city. Along with the rise in water levels, the increase in temperature is causing ocean currents to become warmer, forcing animals to migrate long distances which they often don't survive.

Many skeptics don’t see this as a serious problem, but for many species on Earth, these rising temperatures could cause them to go extinct due to habitat loss. There have been five confirmed mass extinctions on Earth, the most recent occurring 65.5 million years ago, but ecologists say that we are presently living in the sixth mass extinction. Currently, one-quarter of mammals are endangered, and some scientists predict that within the next 100 years, 30 percent of Earth’s plants and animals will be extinct.

Unfortunately, the rise in temperature is not the only thing CO2 is causing. Carbon dioxide is dissolving into the ocean and turning the water more acidic. Ocean acidification is a serious concern of many scientists, as it affects life on the lower end of the food chain. If life such as corals, shellfish, algae, and starfish go extinct, there would be catastrophic impact all the way up the food chain ending with humans.

Thanks to human actions, the ocean is being polluted in more ways than one. Along with effects of air pollution, the ocean is being directly contaminated by our sewage and trash, not to mention oil. According to the Department of the Interior Minerals Managment Service, between the years of 1971 and 2000, there were 250,000 oil spills in US waters alone.

Instead of protecting the ocean, we have been using it as our own personal waste dump. “Humans dump between 5.3 million and 14 million tons of plastic into the ocean annually.” To give you a little perspective, 9 million tons of plastic equates to about 136 billion milk jugs. If you were to stack those end to end, the chain would reach over halfway to Mars. If we continue at these rates, scientists predict that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight (pound for pound).

Our neglect to dispose of such materials properly results in massive collections of garbage formed by ocean currents, like The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. While there is no scientific size estimated for the Pacific Garbage Patch, it has often been estimated to be around twice the size of Texas and possibly larger.

Unfortunately, plastic is incredibly durable, which may be good for when we are actually using it, but once it enters our landfills or oceans it becomes a problem. Its durability means it degrades very slowly if at all. Styrofoam is another example of this problem seeing as it is non-biodegradable. Styrofoam is especially dangerous because it absorbs harmful chemicals and then is eaten by fish. These chemicals then circle back to us when we eat the fish.

We, humans, are contaminating our own food source and polluting our own air. We are killing our planet and we are killing ourselves. If we don't change our ways, the world as we know it will be lost. The famous scientist, Jonas Salk once said:

“If all the insects were to disappear from the Earth, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.”

Thankfully, countries all around the globe have come to this realization and are ready to take action. Countries are turning to using more green energy to lower their carbon footprint and are taking many other actions to keep the Earth healthy. A few more ways we could lower or pollution rates would be by lowering plastic production, improving our waste management, and placing a tax on carbon. If citizens are fined for littering, why should companies be let off the hook? Hopefully, these goals can be met, but it wouldn't hurt for those at home to join the movement too.

Some things you could try at home would include using reusable cloth bags instead of plastic, donating old clothes instead of throwing them away, carpooling or riding your bike as transportation and only using electricity when it is absolutely necessary.

Every little bit helps, so make sure you are doing your part to keep the Earth healthy.

Cover Image Credit: National Geographic | YouTube

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Oprah, Please Do Not Run For President

We need her as a humanitarian, and someone on the outside of politics who can change the thoughts of those setting the agendas and making policy

It is difficult in our current political tide to not advocate for change within our severely partisan system. The bias in media is constantly pushing the American public to believe that all Americans are as far right or far left as that outlet’s political alignment or the politicians they support.

This makes it difficult for those who are not completely content with the severity of the left or right’s stances on policies – most Americans – to maintain support for seasoned politicians who are constantly pushing their agenda with more and more outlandish claims.

With that being said, it is understandable why people would start to look to other sources for political leadership. Celebrities who took stances that align with the masses who were formerly solely regarded as activists and advocates are now being supported as possible political candidates.

From the outside, these people seem like viable possibilities, but just because they can talk the talk does not indicate they can actually be a successful president because they do not understand the intricacies and sensitivities of the oval office.

While it is easy to argue that some of our most famous and impactful presidents have come from unconventional backgrounds, it is also easy to verify their experience prior to taking office.

Ronald Reagan, for example, is highly extolled by the GOP as one of the best presidents our country has ever known because of his work designating him as the Great Communicator. While his time as a Hollywood actor made his ability to speak and entertain a crowd impeccable, his time as Governor of California gave him the political experience needed to be President.

Being president goes beyond being America’s figurehead. The job demands a strong understanding of compromise, negotiation, and the politics behind the policies we have already and need in the future.

As we often see, candidates make promises on the campaign trail that they ultimately can’t keep once in office because they either do not have the support from Congress to push their agenda through, or they have new context that makes the promise implausible.

This brings me to Oprah. Following Oprah’s inspiring speech at the 2018 Golden Globes, after she received the Cecil B. DeMille award, people are supporting her to run for president. Oprah years ago said she had no interest in running for office, but people are calling her to oppose President Trump for the 2020 election and sources are saying she is entertaining the idea.

While I admire Oprah’s activism, philanthropy, and rags-to-riches success, she should not be president. Oprah is incredible at what she does. Her life and inclusive message are inspiring, and she has enough money to support her own campaign, but she has never held public office before.

Furthermore, her celebrity and impact are worldwide already, and we need her as a humanitarian, and someone on the outside of politics who can change the thoughts of those setting the agendas and making policy.

Our current president is someone who was a celebrity first and had no prior political experience before taking office. He has admitted to the drastic change the presidency makes to your life and unforeseen minutia that makes up life in the oval office. Someone running for president isn’t a joke or an entertaining talking point for the news broadcasters.

It’s serious.

No matter our dissatisfaction with seasoned politicians in office, we must admit our country is still here, thriving, and highly regarded worldwide. There will never be a perfect president, they are human as well and humans are prone to error, but we can’t discount the necessity of experience and broad political understanding when it comes to choosing our commander and chief.

Cover Image Credit: Instagram

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