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By: Samantha M (VSA winter 2020 valedictorian)

Good Afternoon VSA Directors, Managers, and Graduates:

When I was asked to address you today, and close this chapter on our time together, I had no idea what I was going to write.

What could I say to this bright, self-aware, confident, humble and gracious group of people?
What words of wisdom could I share with you, so that when you sign-off today you feel peaceful and proud?
What truths could I unpack that would stay with you for a lifetime?

If I’m being completely transparent, I feel like the most unqualified person to give this speech. Not because I don’t recognize my passion for writing, and not because I don’t feel and value your support.
But because I don’t see this as “the end”, because it isn’t. The way I see it, there is still so much work to be done.

True, we’ve spent half of the course physically apart, forced to brew our morning cups of tea and coffee without Jerome; but we did it, because we understood there was work to be done.
Sure, we’ll no longer meet from 2pm-4pm on Whatsapp to discuss our workshops, and to help Ivan solve one of his many inquisitions, but there is still work to be done.
The pattern of our weeks will be different now, and it may be a few months before we can learn and laugh together again in person, but there is still work to be done.
Because for a savvy and determined group like ourselves, who are dedicated to rebuilding our lives, there will always be work to do.

When I look back at where I was when we started VSA, I had absolutely no interest in getting to know or grow with anyone. Throughout my life, I had loved, and fought for friendships; disappointed, betrayed, and misunderstood, time and time again. My faith in humanity was low. My connection with people, beyond a basic level of human decency and respect, of course, was non existent. I’ll never forget the morning I woke up, and I swear, I felt and saw what I can only describe as a piece of my soul, soar towards my open window and fade away. I was fading away. I was burnt out.

But during my time here at VSA, I learned that if I listened, I’d hear a story that sounded similar to mine; that if I listened a little longer, I would hear a problem that I too had and could not solve. And that if I kept listening beyond my threshold and fear of what I would find, I would hear a healing solution. And that healing solution was so often, to be myself.

So for 9 weeks, I listened and watched as you offered solutions and support, not only to me, but to each other. I watched each of you have “aha moments”, and form bonds and connections.
It was as if without verbally agreeing upon it, you each understood that if you were going to get anything out of this program you had to: do the work for yourselves, help each other, and be willing to let the rest of us help you.
Although we lost some members along the way, for reasons unknown, we respected the changes and didn’t dwell. We weathered the changes to the world around us, and continued applying ourselves individually and collectively.

Because of what we’ve already accomplished as a group, I have every bit of faith in each of you, as you move forward with your individual goals. I’m not saying it’ll be easy. There will be times of frustration; you will get emotional; you will have to ask for help from time to time; but because of the fundamentals that VSA has given and re-instilled in us, you now have everything you need for this next phase of your life.

Because we now know ‘4-7-8’ is not an introduction to a painful math equation, but a powerful breathing technique; so much so that it saved Farseen from going postal on a random driver.
Farseen, I wanna take this time to let you know how proud we are of you; but don’t think for one minute we wouldn’t have pooled our Ontario Works money to bail you out of jail – although I’m glad we didn’t have to.

We know the value of managing our time, and being disciplined enough to make our goals (“say it with me”): specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. SMART is no longer a cute acronym on a powerpoint, but a habit we exercise.
And we now know that establishing cues and rewards for the behaviours we need to do, in order to get to where we need to be, is about making SMART choices.

Baba you were right, VSA is like “a banquet of learning…a treat for the soul”.

So any fear, discomfort, and even sadness you may feel in this moment, is not really because you believe this is the end. It’s simply your soul’s recognition of being treated to the unique experience of seeing itself shine again. I know this to be true, because I see and feel it too.
When I started, I told you this wasn’t the end, and now I hope you’ve come to realize that it’s not. In Paulo Coehlo’s ‘The Alchemist’, there is a passage that reads: “Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life.”
So you see, this transition we’re experiencing, isn’t the end at all; intuitively you know there’s still more you have to offer, and because of that, now your soul is living.

So keep living! Keep meditating and practicing breathing techniques; keep setting goals no matter how many you reach; keep being honest with yourself; keep being disciplined with the boundaries you set, and in the tough but overall beneficial decisions you make.
Yes, there’s still work to do, and the best part is, you’ve already begun.

I’ll leave you now with another short, yet poignant quote from ‘The Alchemist’:

“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”

Thank you.

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