The Greatest Gift a Graduate Could Ask For

Circumstances can be defining and sometimes even limiting in what we think we can do. As soon as we were told to vacate campus due to COVID-19, I admittedly gave up on all of my senior year hopes. Everything I had worked towards in the past four years seemed to dissipate as I packed everything into boxes and drove off. Then, a Professor of mine reached out with a possible opportunity to attend a Women’s Foreign Policy conference through PLEN. Given the circumstances, it was converted to an online platform allowing for more flexibility in attending, which resulted in me applying. 

PLEN offered an escape from the current world’s turmoil to foster a community of women who just want to see other women succeed. I was also gifted with the perspective to hit the pause button and refocus my energy on what I can do instead of what I’m limited to. PLEN became the perfect senior gift a young woman could ask for, it became a safe haven for women all around the world to share their interest, challenge each other, build one another, and cheer on our successes. I have to laugh because if it wasn’t the circumstances that COVID-19 had on the world, I would have never been able to apply for PLEN and meet women around the world. Though we were physically confined, we were able to connect beyond borders which is personally enriching. This lesson alone taught me that adaptability is vital in a fast-paced world full of unexpected circumstances. 

Marwa Odeh, Programs and Development Manager at PLEN sharing her story during the Storytelling Workshop.

One of my favorite aspects of the conference was learning how to tell your story and how to tell it effectively. I’ve always thought story-telling was important but I didn’t understand how impactful it could be, until we had the opportunity to listen to a personal account of injustice and hope intertwined. Stories are meant to elicit emotions, spark conversation, and even engage change. As a global community today, we’re experiencing the power of story-telling through the lens of Black Lives Matter (BLM). People of color are sharing stories of injustice that finally are being heard and magnified by the media. Personally, I’ve had more family and friend conversations about BLM in a week than the past four years. These raw and “difficult to swallow” stories are eliciting emotions that are now making people think and re-evaluate. Social change is possible and stories facilitate this, if constructed carefully, a person’s story is unlimited in power and can seek change. This seminar challenged me to look at my own story and begin writing it. We all have one that is worth hearing, luckily it’s an ongoing process and the story will always change, so perfection is thrown out the window. Most importantly, knowing who you are and what your worth is absolute power, as I continue to develop mine I look forward to listening to others’ and honor their paths. 

This conference not only equipped me with skills such as networking and salary negotiation, but I was also able to hear from women themselves who are in the positions of change. It was important to hear about other women’s stories rooted in success and failure, that both were needed to grow into the person they are now. I feel empowered to make mistakes, learn from them, and to do better. I am no longer afraid of having to reach perfection because, in public service, there’s no such thing, only progress. This seminar reaffirmed my passion for working in public service, by meeting so many wonderfully bright-minded women, they gave me hope for a better future in diplomacy. I look forward to seeing these women in the future (and in-person) when we all have seats at the table.

No, I never got to walk across the graduation stage. But, I got to learn more about myself which is equally as important. During this time of great uncertainty, I learned that gifts are only revealed when we can truly appreciate their magnitude. PLEN was my senior gift, it was a chance to re-spark my passion when everything seemed to be put on pause. PLEN gave me a chance to build a community of women around the world even when we were confined by our own inside walls. PLEN reminded me that there’s still work to do and it can be done anywhere. My greatest takeaway is that when women decide to build each other up, anything is possible. When women decide to pick apart our flaws and failures, we inhibit our own opportunities. I say, we keep the spirit of PLEN alive far beyond the conference by continuing to challenge, celebrate, and encourage our sisters all around the world, for we are voices to be heard that will not be silenced.

Samantha Givens is a recent graduate of the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University where she studied Political Science. She virtually attended the Women in Global Policy seminar in May 2020.

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