A Reflection on Gratitude

[I am finally fulfilling my promise of reviving this blog.]

The idea for this blog post has been floating around in my head since the night of Wednesday, September 5, 2012. It was a late night at the office, and I finally decided that I had to leave the office to feed my cats. (I know, I’m beginning to sound like the crazy cat lady.) I got into my car, started the engine, and the radio came on to my usual station of NPR. (It’s not about the political leanings, folks. I just can’t stand commercials, pointless talk radio, or teenie-bopper music. Oh God, I sound like an old woman. I digress…) It was then I snapped out of my work-home-work-home routine and realized that we were in the middle of the Democratic National Convention that week. The speaker of that moment was Ms. Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic nominee for the 2012 United States Senate election in Massachusetts. About half way through my very short commute home, Ms. Warren said the following:

It wasn’t always this way. Like a lot of you, I grew up in a family on the ragged edge of the middle class.… I was waiting tables at 13 and married at 19. I graduated from public schools and taught elementary school. I have a wonderful husband, two great children, and three beautiful grandchildren. And I’m grateful, down to my toes, for every opportunity that America gave me. This is a great country. I grew up in an America that invested in its kids and built a strong middle class; that allowed millions of children to rise from poverty and establish secure lives.”

One sentence out of her entire speech stuck out and really resonated with me–to the point that I could not and did not forget it until 2.5 weeks later today. (Granted, I did look up the transcript to get an accurate quotation…)

“I’m grateful, down to my toes, for every opportunity that America gave me.”

I didn’t know who Ms. Warren was, and, even now, I only know what little Wikipedia tells me about her (which suggests that we have a lot in common). This post isn’t about politics. I favor neither party, and I am an equal-opportunity offender of political extremists of any kind because I believe in collaboration and compromise (but that’s another blog post for the future). But what she said in that short sentence was what I have been feeling for the past few months. I, too, am grateful, down to my toes, for this amazing county that God has used to bless me with grace upon grace.

I am grateful that my parents had the foresight and the courage to leave behind the only world they knew for the first five decades of their lives to give me and my sisters an opportunity for better lives. I am grateful that, though they didn’t even know the words “American dream,” they knew that America is the land of opportunity for their children. I am grateful that America welcomes men and women of every tribe, tongue, and nation to write the new chapter of the great American story. I am grateful that America provided jobs for my parents who spoke very little English even though those jobs were hard on my parents’ bodies and paid not nearly enough. I am grateful for my incredibly hard-working parents who never took a day of vacation for themselves so that they can provide for my sisters and me.

I am grateful that American public education system has been very good to me. Public education gets a bad rap, but I’ve had the fortune of being blessed with wonderful teachers in Washoe County School District (WCSD) in Sparks, Nevada. If it weren’t for those talented teachers who took a great interest in my success, I would not be where I am today. I am especially indebted to Mrs. Varis (nee Murray) for instilling a love for science early on in my educational career. I am grateful for Mrs. Perrault for making English fun for me; it was in her class that I read my first book in English cover-to-cover all on my own. I am grateful for Mrs. Curley, who started a mock trial team at Sparks High School in my senior year. If it weren’t for her, my shy, introverted self back then would not have dreamed of joining a program where I’d be forced into a public speaking role. Little did I know that that I would fall in love with the idea of becoming a lawyer. I am grateful for Mr. Geyer, who inspired me to enter the Science Fair, and put me in touch with a professor at the University to be a mentor for my project. It was that professor, Dr. Fuerstenau, who planted the idea that perhaps, just may be, it is possible to become a lawyer without being a political science major. And, boy, was he right. There are countless other teachers at WCSD who deeply touched my life and changed me for the better. Some of the best years of my life were at WCSD. So, even when every last person in America knocks on public education for failing our children, I will beg to differ and tell them how thankful I am for all my public school teachers.

I am grateful that America provides public financing for college and ample opportunity for private scholarships–both merit- and need-based. My parents–despite all their efforts–could not possibly pay for my two older sisters’ and my college tuition. If it weren’t for Pell Grants, Nevada Millennium Scholarship, and all the other scholarships available through Mackay School of Mines (regardless of the name change, it will forever remain Mackay School of Mines for me) and College of Science, I could not have finished two bachelors degrees without any debt or burdening my parents. If it weren’t for Stafford Loans and research grant stipends, I could not have completed my masters degree with minimal debt. And though I often complain of the enormous debt that SMU Dedman School of Law has bestowed me, I could not have even dreamed of going to law school if it weren’t for Stafford and Grad PLUS Loans. I have not done enough research to weigh in on the debate of whether it is good or bad for the government to be in the education business. But one thing I do know for sure is that I am grateful for all the financial opportunity that America has provided for me so that I can pursue higher education to my heart’s content.

I am grateful that on July 18, 2011, this nation allowed me to call America “my country” by naturalizing me as a citizen. I am grateful for the opportunity, privilege, and the responsibility of voting. (Which reminds me, I need to register to vote. So should you, my friends, if you have not done so!) I am grateful that now I will have a say in shaping the future of this great nation even if it is only one voice.

But, most of all, I am grateful that coming to America translated to coming to Jesus for me and my family. To say that the going was tough for our family during the early days of living in America would be a gross understatement. It was then that God put us in touch with a community of believers who took us in and treated us like family. In hindsight, God uses the most difficult trials of our lives to draw us to Himself.

Is this an exhaustive list of all that I am grateful for? No. Such a list would take blog posts upon blog posts. I just listed a few that related to how I am grateful for the opportunities that America has given me. And I’m only 29 years old and have lived in America for a little short of 19 years. I can’t imagine what the future holds for me. Whatever may come, I’m just grateful to be an American.