By Laura Zhang
With $50 and a couple bags of belongings, my parents immigrated to the United States from China to craft the future they dreamed of for themselves and my siblings and I. That was their ambition. I was always told I was born in this country so that some day I could run for president if I wanted; in other words, to have the opportunity to be anything I ever dreamed of. And at ten years of age, I went to the street with my dad to play my violin and raise money for the local hospital and discovered my love for advocacy in my community and in the world.
Though continuing with this fundraiser with my peers each year until I graduated high school, I would say my trajectory was quite the traditional one. Rigorous classes, sports, music, volunteering, lots of other extracurriculars; nothing out of the ordinary. This path brought me to my first year in college, where unexpectedly I began to struggle with the adjustment and with my mental health.
Depression. Mental Health. Anxiety. These were words that had never been mentioned in my family where my parents valued hard work and toughing out whatever challenges were faced. So after nights of crying myself to sleep, seeking counseling, and feeling a complete loss for my own identity, I made the decision to take time off school… the one thing those closest to me never expected from me: the supposedly thriving, ambitious human being I am. To this day, I feel a lot of my continued struggle with my mental health residing in my culture and background. Feeling lesser because of my mediocre test scores, singular college acceptance, and pressure to feel content and productive all of the time eroded my own ambition for life and everyday actions I used to find meaningful.
My time off dedicated to understanding myself and regaining meaning in my actions has been differently interpreted by many, though I know it is the best choice for me. Since my leave, I have become the founder and director of Sharing Stories, a youth led and run platform advocating for education inequality among immigrant and refugee families and youth engagement in human rights issues. Our goal is to support families in their educational attainments despite their legal or financial circumstances, and engage more of our generation in global issues that impact millions of communities we live in. By primarily sending books and learning materials to locations ranging from developed literacy programs to sidewalks schools at the border, our organization aims to give everyone a platform to share their unique story with the world and be heard. While activism had always been a significant part of my growing up, so many factors often distract us from our full potential as humans, and I hope to inspire others to have the confidence to know they can really make a difference by giving it their all. Amplifying voices that often go unheard is fundamental in creating lasting change for just one of the issues that often divides us, though we are simply human beings.
*I want to quickly take the time to thank all of the refugee families I had the opportunity to meet, for sharing their own stories with me, and for being such bright lights filled with amazing potential despite their circumstances. I am always thinking of you all*
Though I had dreamed of founding an organization like this for a couple of months, nothing in me could muster up the courage to tell my family I wanted to take time off of school to pursue this… something with unguaranteed success that would break me away from the path where I seemingly had everything I needed. This project is a culmination of my ambition and passion for fully embracing myself to be someone in the world. As a creator of my biggest passions, I feel the most myself and am just starting a part of my beautiful journey of self love and pride.
In a hidden way, I perceive ambition to include the act of giving up. If anything, my journey with Sharing Stories has taught me that it is brave to let go of things that are not worth your energy and ultimately make you unhappy. Making the choice to change directions without waiting for approval has made me a livelier, better, and more free person to this day. Thank you for taking the time to read a glimpse of my story, let’s all continue to share and uplift one anothers ambitions.
I would like to leave you with some friendly reminders I wrote to myself as a reminder that you are worthy in whatever state you are in:
- You can change a part of the world by continuing to work hard, learn, and think big
- Take time to breather and recenter, focusing on yourself so you can be better for you and others
- Stay true to yourself, your goals, values, and personality: don’t change for others, change for yourself
- Trust that, by giving in your all, things will work out how they are meant to
- Work to understand that the most painful rejection and failure will only make you stronger than you are
- The world is waiting for you; live boldly, fearlessly, and make every second count
Laura Zhang is an 18 year old student, creator, and founder of the community organization Sharing Stories. She is passionate about human rights and youth advocacy and hopes to bring more awareness about global issues to her community in Colorado. Throughout her current leave from school she hopes to pursue more writing, traveling, and the exploration of herself while growing her organization around the nation. Laura hopes to be a leader among her peers and show others that anyone can make a difference by sharing her story.
INSTAGRAM: @lauraz.30 https://www.instagram.com/lauraz.30/
SHARING STORIES: @sharingstoriesorg https://www.sharingstoriess.org/