This I Believe

By Mrs. Michelle Odell, Head of Middle and Upper School

This I Believe is a movement encouraging people to share, in essay format, their core values guiding their everyday lives.  The movement began in the 1950s with radio host Edward R. Murrow.

When This I Believe was conceived, one of the goals was “to facilitate a higher standard of active public discourse by inspiring people to reflect, encouraging them to share, and engaging them in a conversation about personal values and beliefs that can shape a life, a community, and a society. By inviting Americans of diverse backgrounds to participate in the series, we hope to create a picture of the American spirit in all its rich complexity.”

This year, seniors and a few faculty members will be delivering their own This I Believe essays in our Monday assemblies. As we prepare to hear from our peers, I’d like to share with you YCDS’s diversity statement. I hope you’ve heard it before, but whether this is your first time hearing or you’ve heard it often, please listen closely.

“Diversity is central to York Country Day School’s mission. As our community collaborates to nurture and foster students to better the world, we recognize the importance of fostering mutual respect, responsibility, and empathy.

Our world presents many forms of human identity including race, gender, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, physical ability, family structure, and age. YCDS welcomes, honors, and gives voice to all differences among us and works to identify what unites us as we embrace our collaborative spirit.”

To that end, as you listen to not just to my speech, but to every speech throughout the year, please remember to be respectful. In our recent assembly,  Dr. Darrien Davenport mentioned that we seem to have lost the ability to have respectful discourse despite disagreement. It is okay if we do not all agree. Speaking with someone with whom you don’t agree or about something you don’t understand is one of the greatest learning opportunities there is, but you must listen to hear and seek to understand rather than listen to speak and to argue.

I thank you in advance for honoring the courage it will take for your peers to stand in front of an audience and speak about their core beliefs. It is not an easy thing to do. Thank you for respecting the diversity that makes us great.

Mrs. Odell’s Speech:

When we decided to embark on this adventure, I recognized right off that if I wanted to ask seniors to stand before you and talk for three minutes about their core beliefs that I also must be brave enough to stand before you and speak of mine. I spent several long runs over the summer thinking about what I believed. I think we all believe a lot of things. I tried to settle on many, but none seemed quite right and, honestly, I was all over the place.

In the end, I’ve written a handful of This I Believe essays.

I’ve written about love: that love is choice, not something that happens to you. It is deliberate, and it is not always easy. Nevertheless, I believe that love is patient, kind, joyful, trusting, hopeful and enduring.

I’ve also written about running, dogs, the inspiration of words, and choosing joy.

I think it is okay to have a few things in which you believe. Obviously.

In the end I decided to share with you a core principal that has pushed and guided me throughout my life.

I believe in doing difficult things.

I believe in doing difficult things in part because they are difficult. I realize this might seem unusual so let me tell you a story.

Almost nine years ago, a very good friend of mine, Gina, died after a very short battle with an aggressive form of leukemia. Several months after her death, another mutual friend told me she was running a half marathon to raise awareness about AML, the type of leukemia to which Gina lost.

To put this idea into perspective, in college I ran one 10k and thought it was awful. I was athletic, but long distance running wasn’t my thing. As a matter of fact, I thought anyone who wanted to run longer than 15 or 20 minutes was borderline coo-coo. But this was for Gina, so less than 6 hours later, I’d paid more than 10 dollars per mile to run 13.1 of them and reserved a hotel room for the race.

Ten weeks later, I’d gone from 0 miles to 13.1 and found that, yes, it was hard. Yes, I felt like I was going to throw-up at the end. Yes, I couldn’t walk right for a week. And, yes, I loved it.

The journey was difficult.  For the first 5 weeks of training, I chanted a mantra continuously while I ran. “This won’t always hurt so bad. It won’t always be this hard.” And I was right.

A few years later, I ran my first marathon. Occasionally people will ask me, “How far was your marathon?” For the record, a marathon is always 26.2 miles. A half marathon is always 13.1 miles.

At this point, I had run a lot of half marathons. I thought the half distance was very doable. Difficult things have a tendency to get easier over time, and I no longer doubted my ability to finish 13.1 miles.

The marathon, on the other hand, was a completely different story. Every Saturday or Sunday, when it was time for a longer long run than I had run the previous weekend, I’d toss and turn rather than sleep. When my alarm would go off at 3:50 am (yes, that’s right; you start runs early in the Florida heat), I’d roll out of bed with butterflies and questions. Can I finish 16 miles? Can I finish 18? Oh my goodness, I have a 22-miler today. Can I do that? Each time, I was able to answer yes.

I learned a few things running my first marathon. First, 22 miles (my longest run pre-race) and 26.2 miles are very different distances. A lot can happen in 4.2 miles: Most of it is not good when you’ve already been running for three hours. Every step becomes both question and answer. Can I do it? Yes. Can I do it? Yes. Can I do it?

I ran a great marathon that day. I was sore for a few weeks, but I ran a great race. And I proved I could do something hard. It didn’t happen over night. Hard things take time. They take planning. They require long-term goals and extended effort. They can’t be done in a vacuum. You need help.

I trained for that first half marathon all by myself – sort of. I did the training runs by myself, but I wasn’t alone. I asked experts to help me formulate a training plan. I planted water bottles at friends’ houses for hydration as I ran. I told everyone about my goal so I would have encouragement.

For the marathon, I did all the same things – exponentially. While I could run 10, 11, or 12 miles alone. I couldn’t run 16, 18, 20 or 22. I needed help. Difficult things usually require help of some kind.

With each increment towards the goal, I had doubts and fear and chose to proceed anyway. I had failures along the way. Sometimes in the pursuit of something difficult, the plan is simply one more step. And then one more.

This is how you do difficult things.

And it isn’t just running or physically difficult things I enjoy.

I chose to leave the comfort and security of a job I did well and had done well for a long time to try a new challenge. That choice to move across several states, to a place where I didn’t really know anyone, to try something difficult, led me here. The rewards of choosing to pursue difficult things are immense. This journey at Country Day isn’t always easy. I’m not always successful. I certainly make mistakes. But the journey is amazing and the rush is real, so I will keep choosing to do difficult things.

So mixed in with all of what I believe – love, running, joy, dogs, and the power of words – I believe in doing difficult things. I believe doing difficult things makes for a life well-lived.

Thank you.

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