An Optimistic Farewell

Noah Wali

Quarantine has given us all unlimited time to think. Time to think about our past, our future, what we’re missing out on, and who we are in this unpredictable world. I know I have been thinking. A lot.

Recently, the United States surpassed 100,000 deaths due to Covid-19: a grim milestone to reach given the countless opportunities we have had to slow the spread earlier this year. I did my own research. 100,000 deaths surpass the casualties in the Vietnam War, 9/11, and the global war on terrorism combined. I’ve thought a lot about how my senior year has been affected by Covid-19, my family, my city, my country. I’ve found myself hyper-focused on the losses of my spring semester. But most importantly, I’ve thought about my time at OES since the 6th grade. I’ve thought about the interactions I’ve had with students, teachers, staff, and the moments with the curriculum and spaces at OES. I’ve wondered how my time at OES has prepared me for moments like these, real-life moments where we must make tough decisions about our present and our future. The most valuable lessons I’ve learned from OES is positivity and empathy, even in the most difficult of times.

Throughout my high school career, I have oftentimes struggled with procrastination. I would allow my work to pile up, save it for the last minute, and blame the world for the amount of work I had. I would turn my work in late, expect the worst consequences, and do it all over again. That wasn’t the case at all. Each time I turned my work in late I was always asked a question, “Why? Is everything okay? Do you need any help?”. The positive attitude shown by teachers during these times surprised me. My teachers cared about my success, they constantly checked in on me and tried to make sure I was doing okay. Though such a small feat, these moments with teachers shaped me into who I am today. Whenever I am struggling, I try to remember the people I have around me who care about me and support me. I use these moments to fuel my positivity today. Rather than dwelling on the losses of my spring semester at OES, I think back on the countless memories I’ve made with teachers and students. I try to be the most positive version of myself I can be to my family, my friends, and even strangers. Even the smallest light of positivity can change someone’s perspective, I would know from experience. OES has taught me that expressing my gratitude and committing even the smallest acts of kindness is the key to changing your own perspective. I can’t try to save lives on the front line, but I can influence those around me to keep a positive attitude.

Most importantly, OES has taught me to be empathetic. My work with John Holloran in the fall shifted my perspective on the ways I make a difference in the world. I spent a full fall semester class talking to homeless people on the streets of Portland about their lives. I interviewed them, took their photos, and most importantly, made profound connections with people I’d never imagined speaking to. John guided me through this process, helping me frame their stories in a positive, non-biased manner to be put into a photobook honoring those who are without a home. I was nervous, at first, however, once I started speaking to different people, I realized I had a lot in common with them. I showed empathy in a way I knew how to best: Communication. Many of the people I spoke to talked about how I was one of the only strangers to talk to them in weeks. They really appreciated my desire to learn about their lives.

I have been asking myself recently: How can I honor what I’ve learned at OES? There is no way to truly put it into words, no way to explain it to someone. I can only act on the lessons I will cherish forever. Walking downtown and checking in on the homeless community. Being there for my father while he transitions to a new business. Spending time connecting with my teachers and friends. Taking care of myself. These times call for positivity and empathy. These are the ways we stay united when the times get hard. I constantly think back to the OES mission statement: Using your power for good. We all underestimate the ways we can impact other people’s lives. Wherever we end up in the future, I urge you to think about how you can change the world. OES, thank you for everything you’ve given me.