Last week, I was fortunate enough to be a keynote speaker for Cabrini Day 2020. While many people are afraid of public speaking, I have a passion for it, so this was a perfect opportunity for me. This was the first time I participated in Cabrini Day in any capacity, and I was really pleased with how it turned out. I want to attach my keynote speech here to allow my fellow members of the Cabrini community to read it and hopefully gain some value from it.
About 8 months ago, I was enjoying a great college life. I was living in South Residence Hall with three of my friends. I was getting ready to start my sophomore year golf season and win another AEC championship title. I was preparing to give a speech at the 2020 SEPCHE honors conference. I had all of these plans, but I think as humans we’ve learned that life doesn’t always go as planned. I hardly need to tell you this next part. Because I know each and every one of you experienced it as well.
I was living an awesome college experience, you were probably living your life, and following your own journeys… and then Covid hit. What started off as simply something far away in the news, eventually became a worldwide pandemic. Again, I don’t need to tell you this, because you lived it too.
Our lives became upended, the plans we had, fell apart before our very eyes, and we were forced to adapt to a new normal. I remember the feelings that I had during that first month. I remember the feeling of missing a lot of things. I missed eating dinner with my friends each night in the caf, where we’d fill an entire table. I missed coming back to my dorm- seeing one of my friends watching Netflix, one playing Xbox, and the other practicing on his guitar. I missed being a student ambassador- putting on a Cabrini t-shirt and going to give a tour to a prospective student and their parents. Talking to them, joking with them, and showing them why I love being here.
I missed a lot of things but I also realized that there were others who had it much, much worse- being laid off, figuring out what to do with their young kids now stuck at home, or even losing someone close to them. It’s not an easy time. I mean, back in the beginning, most of us couldn’t even get toilet paper. It’s a strange, unfortunate time.
But you see, there is opportunity in even the strangest of times. There are two significant opportunities that stick out to me the most. The first one is a lesson. And that lesson is: to cherish every single day of our lives once we’re back to normal. I am going to fervently cherish the rest of my college experience. Even the days when I have a lot to get done, where I might be a little stressed. I can look back on this time as a lifelong lesson. I have directly seen what it is like to have something threaten to end my and my peer’s college experience. Threaten the limited time we have to enjoy here. So especially if you are one of my fellow classmates, I hope that you keep this lesson- enjoy every second of college now, and live in each moment when things return to normal.
The second significant opportunity is the chance to improve ourselves. When else in our lives has everything become paused? When else have we had more time alone with our own thoughts? The very fact that over the past 8 months we have had more time to ourselves, away from the world, shows that now is the perfect moment to hone in on improving ourselves. Just because the world has paused somewhat, does not mean that our lives have. As I understand it, time continues to march on. So we can choose whether to sit back and waste it or take advantage of the opportunity this has created to better ourselves on a personal level.
These past eight months I’ve chosen several things I wanted to do to better myself. I increased the amount of Youtube videos I’ve watched, but not just anything I felt like, there was purpose behind it. I watched more ted talks, I watched more videos on charisma, videos on conversational skills, on confidence. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years and the reason is simple. If you want to get better at golf, specifically putting, there’s an easy way to do it. Lookup a video on how to put more accurately. Watch it, think about it, process it, and then the next time you’re out on the golf course, you try to apply what you learned. And eventually, that becomes part of your game. The exact same thing goes for self-improvement. Whether you want to keep up and refine a skill that you have or create a new one, I find it extremely helpful to just look it up. The information is out there. It just requires your effort in learning it and continually practicing it.
That’s one of the more important ways I’ve been able to improve myself throughout the years. Some other things I’ve done over this past half-year have been: I started reading more. I even bought a few new books. I go on social media less now, and it feels good. When I am on it, I am consuming more positive content. Because the content that you consume affects your brain. But that’s a speech for another day. I also started learning how to invest in the stock market back in April and now manage my own account. Something I will use for the rest of my life. This fall, I’ve been practicing golf more and playing better because of it. I’ve been listening to more podcasts, but positive ones. Again, going back to the content you consume affects your brain and your thoughts. One improvement I am currently trying to make is to work out more. Because I’ve always been very on and off with it, and I want to try to make it more of a habit.
So why do we care about self-improvement, and what does it have to do with helping other people?
My high school priest once told me, that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Let me explain that and how it applies to self-improvement. To do that, we’re gonna talk about who I am now vs. who I was 5 years ago. For those of you who don’t know me, I would consider myself outgoing, confident. I love talking to people. I love having deep conversations with people. I enjoy public speaking, and one of my greatest values is a desire for continual self-improvement.
I didn’t tell you this to hype myself up. I'm telling you this because five years ago I was not this person. I used to be shy, more reserved, I wasn’t good at talking to new people, I felt awkward, and I wasn’t a big fan of public speaking. It was through me deciding that I wanted to better myself, and putting in the time and effort to do so, that I was able to become the person that I am today.
Now let me ask you, of those two people, myself now and myself five years ago, who do you think can more easily better the world and the environment around him. I now have the potential to affect more positive change in the world, and to better express love and kindness to those around me.
Now imagine this in your own life. What if you were to turn one of your weaknesses into a strength. If we have any desire to help others, we need to do this. In doing this, we are investing in ourselves and raising our potential to positively affect other peoples’ lives. Whether you want to become a better writer, a better conversationalist, a better listener, better at making a first impression, better at anything; All of these things will of course help you in your own life, but they will raise your potential for helping others.
It doesn’t matter whether your goal is something as small as becoming more effective at showing your friends how much they mean to you, or something as large as creating a foundation to help kids dealing with something, or veterans, or any other cause that fires you up and that you’re passionate about. I’m not here to tell you exactly what positive thing you should do for others, I have no doubt that you already have something in mind. You probably already know what great things you’d love to create. I’m here to help get you thinking about the opportunity we have now to improve ourselves so we can better achieve those things.
There’s a poem that’s written by an unknown author that I believe sums up this idea of changing the world by first changing yourself. The poem goes like this:
When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.
When I found I could not change the world, I tried to change my nation.
When I found I could not change my nation, I tried to change my town.
When I found I could not change the town, I tried to change my family.
Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself.
And suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself,
I could have made an impact on my family.
My family and I could have made an impact on our town.
Their impact could have changed a nation.
And I could indeed have changed the world.
I love how this poem points out that if we want to see change or good in the world, we need to start with the person looking back at us in the mirror. It is through that, that we can achieve amazing feats and truly impact other peoples’ lives. Improving the world begins with improving yourself.
And this all comes back to our opportunity at hand. The opportunity that now stares us back in the face, and has been staring at us for the past 8 months. The opportunity for a lesson- that we should cherish every moment now and after this is over. And the opportunity to improve ourselves, which will give us the potential to improve the lives of those around us.
So the way I see it, there are two major entities that remain. Us, and opportunity. It is up to each one of us to decide whether to seize this opportunity or not. If we do decide to take advantage of this and decide to improve ourselves, then maybe we can have a positive impact on the people around us. Maybe we and the people around us can spread positivity to our communities. Maybe they can impact the lives of the people of our nation. And then indeed, we could change the world.