The world is a stage, Shakespeare said, and all the people merely players. We tend to think, going about our daily lives, that we star in our own play. Sometimes, though, we meet someone, and we realize we may simply be a supporting actor in their play. Aiti Rai is one of those special people who make me feel as if the future is really about her and her visions.
About two years ago, my brother-in-law Pedro Bermudez was working at Real Art Ways, and his co-worker, Lindsey Fyfe, asked me if I had any room in my fledgling law firm for an intern. Lindsey explained a little about Aiti being a refugee from Nepal, and I said sure, I’ll take a chance on her.
At Aiti’s interview in January 2014, I tested her writing and research skills through a small research project of some news articles on the internet, via an old laptop. When the laptop crashed, Aiti needed me for the password to restart. As I opened the browser history, so she could return to work, I saw every entry was for dictionary.com. Aiti looked up all the words she did not know.
How amazing a glance into someone’s mental habits! How few possess such intellectual discipline! I hired her as an intern at that moment. For the last 18 months, Aiti has worked a few hours a week for my law firm, doing everything from alphabetizing books to data entry to research in Hartford City Hall.
A few months ago, I had nothing for her to do, so I had her to read an article in a legal newspaper. Later that night, cleaning up the office, I found a sticky note where Aiti sat, with about 20 words, among them stratagem, provocateur, pseudo, exacerbate, inadvertently, exquisite and pyrrhic. At first, I wondered why my paralegal was and before I could finish the thought, it hit me: Aiti was looking up words again.
How proud I was that she made the most of her opportunities. How much we all could learn from her!
As the caption above noted, Aiti just graduated at the top of her class at HPHS’ Law and Government Academy. Her speech at graduation brought tears to my eyes, and in this column’s long-standing tradition of publishing youth journalism, I present you with her speech. I sit in awe of this young woman, and cannot wait to see what she does going forward. I stand humbled by Aiti’s optimism, resilience and drive.
Here is her speech, unedited:
Honored guests, staff, family, friends and the 2015 LGA graduates. My name is Aiti Rai. I am very proud to be able to speak to you this evening.
I had a dream like many of you do. It was a small, hopeless dream, because I come from a place where I had no choices. It was not a dream to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. It was not a dream to live in a mansion, drive a fancy car or wear expensive clothes. It was my dream to be married, have a family and live life as my parents did.
I had this small dream because I was a refugee living in Nepal and had no other choices besides becoming a wife and parent. Imagine your life in a hut made of bamboo and thatch. A hut without electricity or running water. A home without plumbing or a refrigerator or privacy.
How can you dream of a better life in that situation? Think about it. You cannot change your future, unless you are a genius or super rich. This is the life I lived until just about 4 years ago. You may not have lived in a refugee camp like I did, but I know that many of you have faced similar circumstances, like being homeless or losing loved ones or living without enough food.
Now I am living in the United States, which is a country known throughout the world as a dreamland, a land of opportunities. I never thought I would be able to come to this country. But now that I am here in the United States, I have the chance to expand my dreams. I have the chance to dream of a better future for me and for my family.
What has allowed me to dream are the opportunities that I was provided at LGA: a good education, a dedicated staff, and meeting friends from different cultures who have their own American dream. You, also, were given these same opportunities at LGA. So you also can live the American dream. We’ve all completed the first step, getting our high school diploma. Now we must move forward. That is what our family, teachers, and loved ones want for us. That is what we should want for ourselves.
When I was a child, I used to go to a nearby field and play in the mud with friends. When we heard a plane flying above us, we used to look up at it and scream for it to take us to a different world. Go back to your own childhood and you might remember having your own wish for a “plane” to take you away.
For us, that plane was magic. We never thought it was made for us and that one day we really would be flying inside as it took us to a different world. You might not think that the American dream is made for you. But if that airplane, that magic, was real for me, the American Dream can be real for you. For all of us.