Dieynabou Barry – Alumni Honoree 2015 Gala Speech
My motto for a long time has been “make the world a place”. My studies and experiences in college have cemented and focused my professional and personal aspirations. I want to work to dismantle systems of oppression that unfairly marginalize people based on perceived differences. Everyone in this world can be a positive contributor to society if they are invested in. Christodora has made my world a place. Christodora invested in me when I did not realize I was worth the investment.
My story is a cliché. I am a black woman from the South Bronx; the daughter of two Guinean immigrants who came to this country in search of a more meaningful and productive life; however, they found the realities of U.S. life harsh, which forced me into a single-parent household; one that is held together by the strongest woman I know.
It is easy for many people to assume that for me to be in my current position, an Ivy League graduate and employee at an established international development firm, all I had to was work hard. However, that is only part of my journey. Hard work comes from motivation and confidence. Motivation to lead the life you want and confidence that you can achieve your goals. For a lot of people who come from a similar background as mine, you need a mentor, a support network that pushes you to see your potential. I have been blessed to have a strong support network.
I first attended Manice when I was 12 years old. I was in the 7th grade and instantly fell in love. Three days was not enough, so I applied to return for a summer session. This is when my transformation began. During this summer, a counselor said something that deeply resonated with me. He made me feel smart. This was the first time that I realized that I was just as good as my classmates even if my average was not as good as theirs. He sparked a light in me. I went on to excel in high school and graduate as class valedictorian because he made me believe in my intelligence,
Manice is also where I formed a sense of home. I confided in my counselors. During some summers, they were my closest friends. I spoke confidently around them and connected with them; something that I had never done because I did not think I could have such relationships with adults. In addition to my counselors, I bonded with campers that I never thought I could be friends with because of how different we were. None of that mattered at Manice. Everyone was themself. Everyone laughed. Everyone had a great time. Nobody worried.
I expanded this sense of home into the city. I joined New Youth Conservationists where I spent all of my Sundays from 8th grade to my senior year of High School. Sundays were the days I was unapologetically myself. I laughed for hours and learned about the natural environment that was located 15 minutes from my house. Each summer and Sunday, I gained a bit more self-confidence and leadership capabilities. My mountain to climb and river to navigate has always been my self-confidence. However, when at a Christodora program, these obstacles did not exist because I was surrounded by family.
Because of Christodora’s large impact on my life and personal growth, I decided to return as a staff member at Manice. I returned as an Outdoor Educator Assistant hours after I graduated from Dartmouth College. (I’m not even kidding haha) Instead of relishing in the joys of graduation, I relished in the fact that I became Wilderness First Aid certified (haha). During my employment, I discovered why Manice and Christodora programs have an instrumental effect on students. The staff is a close-knit unit similar a family. The educators are fully committed to ensuring the best experience for campers by immersing them in a world so different and liberating from the one they come from. I was honored when Matt asked me to lead the B.R.I.D.G.E. trip this past summer. This experience brought my journey with Manice full circle. When I participated in B.R.I.D.G.E., I was the camper who struggled the whole trip. The physical demands were tolling and the group dynamics were emotionally straining. Yet, I successfully completed the trip and felt the biggest sense of pride, boost of confidence, and formed strong friendships. Helping my students complete their journey from student to potential staff made me very emotional. I became the counselor that my 12-year old self confided in. Manice helped me make a difference in 8 students’ lives each of whom made a difference in my life.
With these remarks, I thank Christodora for its investment in me. I truly appreciate all that Christodora has done for me in the last ten years. I will continue to spread Christodora’s culture in my endeavors of making this world a better place to live. Thank you.
Dieynabou Barry, Alumni Honoree