On Being Famous

by Jesse Delia
Environmental Leadership Manager
POWER Assembly at Common Ground, Jan 18, 2017

So today we’re going to talk about being famous.

Jesse, center, with some of her “famous” friends, Diane Litwin (left) and Niyonu Spann (right).

Who here wants to be famous one day? Or has ever wished they could be?

OK good. We’re gonna talk a little about what it means to be famous and I’m going share some thoughts that were prompted by the Student Council asking me to speak- which I’m incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to do today.

I want to start with a poem by a Palestinian-American poet named Naomi Shihab Nye who talks about what it means to be famous.


by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

“It never forgot what it could do. “

When they asked me to speak about what it means to be a part of a community, this poem was the first thing that popped into my head. And I started thinking about how there are so many people in our community who are already famous.

When you hear me say this, you may have already figured out that I’m not talking about being a YouTube star- though I will definitely subscribe if that’s what you’re about. What I’m talking about is what you want to be known for, how you want to show up as a leader in our community- in ways both big and small.

We spent some time talking in the Senior social justice class about what it means to be a leader and Joe said it can be someone who leads without having to say anything at all.  I agree with Joe and similarly, for me, I think that being a leader means that people feel better about themselves just by being around you.

When I asked if anybody knew someone like this, a few people shouted out, DIANE!

And I kid you not, everyone in the room started smiling and bouncing around in their chairs.

We decided Diane is famous for her skipping, for her optimism, and her constant good attitude and smile. But when you really start to think about it, we have quite a few famous people in our midst.

Mr. Mo for his positive energy and his photography skills that help document our adventures and our growth as a community each year at the All School Hike.

Or Mr. Win for his daily reminders: “Alllll right Common Ground Commuters…”

Marcel for his incredible drawings that pop up on every white board in the school.

Angela for the unfailing energy and greetings she shares with everyone when school lets out for the day. I feel better about myself every time Angela reminds me to have a good night or a great weekend.

Ibes for his ability to make just about any human on the planet crack a smile.

Joe for being a leader without having to say anything at all.

Jalyn’s steady leadership and willingness to support you whenever you ask.

Ms. Aguirre’s contagious energy and love of science.

Eugenio’s million dollar smile.

Idiriya for her buoyant energy in class, on the farm, all day every day..

Madyson for her compassion while tending to the chickens on CS Day.

Ms. Thiya and Ms. Theresa and Ms. Saicha for feeding us food made from scratch every single day.

Idonia and Shaelyn and student council and Mr. K  for showing such courage in helping us figure out this exact Question of what it means to be a community.

I could literally  go on and on for each and every one of you. I had to cut myself short on this list or we’d be here all day. I will confess that each of you is indeed already famous, to me.

The unfailing consistency of some of these things can make us forget just how remarkable these day to day acts are. We come to expect these things and might even sometimes take one another’s gifts for granted.

But can you imagine someone else making the CG commuters announcement in the afternoons? Or what would happen if we no longer had lunch from the farm?

These are the individuals who bring their magic and their gifts to make us the community that we are.  And this most definitely includes you.

So, as we think about what it means to be a community member, I think it means practicing showing up as our true selves and showing up for others.

Being a part of your community means learning about, owning, and enjoying your stories, history, and where you’re from- the shiny awesome stuff and the harder things that make up who we are. It means being curious about, interested in, respectful of, and celebrating the stories of others. It means connecting and sharing with folks who don’t act, look, think, or talk like we do.

It means having a deep respect for yourself and others.

It means putting in the work every day of figuring out and practicing and figuring out again what it means to be a good community member. Even on the days when it’s hard, especially on the days when it’s hard.

It means being curious and interested in others- and being courageous enough to connect with someone new or learn something new.

It means taking responsibility for your part in making CG a place you want to be.

And being proud of what you offer to this community and the ways in which you make it great.

Most importantly, I want to say that community isn’t something you can do by yourself.

Each of us has to be willing to step outside our comfort zone- be willing to fail, or look silly- and expect to be surprised by our own greatness and the greatness of others and what’s possible when we work together.

So I invite you to ask yourself:

How do I want to be known? What do I want to be famous for?

And then practice. Whether on the bus, in the caf or classroom, after school….This is a perfect place to practice. Practice being yourself. And doing your part is big and small. Practice making eye contact and saying hello. Make a point of learning people’s names.  Learn to recognize injustice and call it out for what it is. Speak truth to power. But also, remind your friends that you care about them.

Thank the people who feed us every single day. Make a point of noticing when cups and plates have been left behind in the caf and be the person who’s known for putting in the extra effort to keep our space beautiful. Offer to help out on the farm or volunteer in children’s programs.

Whatever you do, do NOT sleep on your gifts. Or take of granted that everyone you meet has a story and something to offer, something you can learn. CG needs you and the world needs you too much for you to spend time thinking you don’t have something to say or contribute.

There is injustice in the world and unfairness and ugliness- but our willingness to build community is an act of resistance, an act in service of creating a just world where people feel safe, valued, and known.  And our strength to make change is in our ability to do so together.

So in the spirit of ongoing celebrations of Dr. King and all struggles for justice, Dr. King reminds us that :

Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

So think about what it is you want to be known for, what you want to be famous for. And as we move into the town hall I invite you to listen keenly and share honestly about what it is we want our community to be about. What’s our shared purpose here?

You get to say. And we need each other, and every one of us, to figure it out together.

Thanks for your attention.


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