I had the distinct privilege of speaking to a large group of students, families, school and community leaders and awarding our second annual community funded scholarship in memory of Isaac last night. While this is still a very tender subject matter for me, I tried to deliver a potent and relevant message that has taken me almost 40 years and incredible heartache to learn, in hopes that this generation of kids might embrace it sooner rather than later, rather than never. I’ve copied the text of my speech below because I feel in my heart this message relates to all of us. We are all in this together! Shine On! And please share if you feel you can reach anyone who needs it! 💛💛💛
Ive learned a lot about what it means to be a man or woman built for others over the last 1 year 7 months and 8 days & what it takes to build a legacy. Ive learned this while reading and listening to countless stories from this community about the impact my son, Isaac, had in his short life. Isaac was a kid who just innately empathized with others, from as early as any of my family & I can remember. There was a tenderness and a heart for the underdog inside Isaac and he was driven by kindness. While I truly believed in my the bones of my soul that I knew my son, it wasn’t until losing him that I learned so much more about him than I ever could have imagined. Ive heard how he impacted the lives of lonely kids, hurting or scared or angry kids, new kids, gas station attendants, bank presidents, medical professionals, elderly customers, neighbors. The list of people could stretch out across Lake Michigan, those who were given a hug, a laugh, a listening ear, a hand, a shoulder to cry on, his last few dollars in his wallet, his time, his love. He gave all he had without questioning it.
I have also learned over this time that to be spiritually & emotionally healthy AND an effective steward of citizenship, to cultivate kindness, to be a role model, it is equally essential to recognize your personal limits, to not give until it hurts, to accept that we must become comfortable with receiving as much as we are with giving, to value and engage ourselves in reciprocal relationships with the people we aim to serve or love. We must replenish the well from which we give. We do this by fostering healthy relationships within, creating boundaries and not barricades, and by listening to and honoring the small voice inside, by stoking the inner fire, by remaining loyal to our passion and connecting with our purpose. When we do this, we cant help but really begin to impact others and impact change.
Our culture conditions us to buy into the idea that only relentlessly giving & pushing are proof of our worth or inherent goodness. But I think true citizenship, the kind that can lead us forward and into remembering our wholeness, will come when we as a society value well being, value mental health, above wealth, above all else. Our own and everyone elses. And I think it starts with putting your own oxygen mask on first so that you might help, give, support, serve & love others.
I hope as you graduates go out into the world and begin new lives you will always remember to look within yourselves & take an honest inventory of what you have to give to yourselves and to others, and then to give with all your heart what is renewable, from this understading. I think you will deeply impact others if you do, by showing how its done, modeling balance, self awareness, meeting your own needs, and then sharing your own precious natural resources with the mind of a conservationist, and steward of your own heart and your own truth. I believe this is how we help others best, operating with alignment to what is precious and irreplaceable within each and everyone of you, rather than just giving all you have to give away and finding yourself empty and spent and unable to be effective for the long haul.
Selecting a recipient this year for Isaac’s scholarship proved difficult as your parents, administrators, teachers, coaches, peers & community must know. This class, these applicants, were truly impressive individuals. And I want to thank each of you for representing yourselves, your families, your school and your community with such a depth of heart and integrity. Our criteria for this award is not academic achievement, but rather character based. As we honestly agonized over our decision, there was one person who shined through the brightest. Though I do wish we could give each of our finalists a scholarship, I think our recipient most exemplifies the qualities of heart centeredness that Isaac did. What is remarkable about this student, to us, is that they also have already begun to recognize the importance of resilience and that resilience comes from taking care of yourself first even when your nature is to give to others first and give all you have. This person seems to understand first hand that for giving to be effective, it must be sustainable, something this individual and our IJLF board share in common. Mariah Montano, we are honored to award you this scholarship in recognition of the inner and outer character you have cultivated amongst your peers and community and within yourself. We truly hope that you will continue to be a beacon of light by striving to take care of yourself as well as you do others, as you go out into the world & reach your goal to serve others as an attorney, as a woman, as a champion for those in need AND for your own precious self.
To summarize, I challenge you all to go-do-be– to make mistakes, check in with yourself, learn and grow, give what is renewable, and be brave. This may not be the “normal” message at graduation time, which marks accomplishments, success and encourages future achievement, but I feel strongly this is a message you all need to hear– and remember. Thank you.