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Monday, April 25, 2016

Travel Diary #4: Polar Bears + Beavers + Tigers + Kingfishers

Travel Diary #4: Three Weeks of Living the Dream!™

It's been a while since this blog was last updated--apologies! I (Diana) have been traveling essentially nonstop for three weeks since March 30th, so it's been difficult to make any posts happen during that time as Dorothy and I weren't in the same place. But now I'm back, and we'll have fashion posts up for you guys soon. Meanwhile, this is my travel diary, reflecting back on my brief respite from school. If you don't feel like reading the whole thing (I understand--it's long!) I've divided the post up into three parts. Just click on any one of the tags below to skip ahead.

Part One: Coca-Cola Scholars Weekend
Every year, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation opens up applications for high school seniors in the United States to apply for a chance at being named a Coca-Cola Scholar. I originally applied for the scholarship money; I was naive. Being a coke scholar is not about the money, but about the incredible, incredible people you'll meet and call your new family. Every single person I met at the Scholars weekend--a weekend in Atlanta, Georgia where the 150 scholarship winners gather for a banquet, a celebration, some tourism, and a community service project--was just phenomenal. From International science competition winners to nonprofit gods/goddesses to coding wizards to cultural trailblazers to athletic powerhouses to musical philanthropists to disease conquerors to artistic geniuses, I could not have asked for a more inspirational, humble, compassionate, interesting group of people. Surprisingly, I didn't really feel any sense of competition or jealousy--rather, everyone just sort of walked around with our coke scholar tags, meeting each other, in awe of each other, encouraged by each other, so that we were connected by more than just our red scholar shirts: our hearts thrummed to the same beats by DJ 412, our stomachs brimmed with the same delicious meals, our lives surrendered, gracefully, confidently, to the tidal wave that swept us to the embrace of a wider mission of hope, of love, of change and human triumph. 

Coke scholars who arrived to the Weekend a day early because of distance gathered together at the dining tables for the first introductions. S/O to Cornelius the liar in this picture :P
Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation President Mark Davis stops by to say hi
Group 1 chaperones' picture below... BEST GROUP EVER ;) 
Snack table for the perpetually hungry AKA me
Sterling from Tennessee had a Walkman and makes cassette tapes. Call me basic but that's SO COOL.
Coca-Cola Scholars are master at dabbing

Thursday night, we had our banquet. Wow wow wow. What an experience. From rehearsal to live broadcast to sitting with leaders from all over the world who sponsored the foundation to hearing David Rubenstein's MINDBLOWING speech... It was honestly one of the best moments of my life. Mr. Rubenstein, you were right--we are not here to buy boats. We are here to make this world better than how we found it. 

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, unlike many other scholarship foundations, really focuses on fostering the spirit and goodwill of leadership in its scholars. What did this mean? We all attended a three-day Leadership Development Institute that challenged us to not only be vulnerable but, more importantly, empathetic. It comprised of some of the most illuminating and wonderful hours I've ever experienced. My biggest takeaway? At one point, we were asked to write down on a note card what one of our greatest fears was. Everyone turned theirs in anonymously, and our group leaders (we were divided into groups led by coke scholar alumni) read each out loud. The predominant response: "I'm afraid I'm not good enough." "That I will disappoint everyone." "That I will not be able to reach my goals." Maybe my perspective as a developed nation resident renders my enlightenment naive and privileged, but something tells me that these fears are universal. When I realized that all these leaders around me shared my fear--suddenly I wasn't afraid anymore. Because I am not alone. We are not alone. We've never been alone--we just forget that little fact, sometimes, in the hours before sunrise, when the glow of computer screens can feel like an ironic caveat against envisioning things too bright. 
The beautiful Christina Randall and Caroline Leadmon
The majestic Manaal Ali
Best LDI group? Heck year. #7Pride
Sub-unit 7A, AKA the best Sub-Unit ;)
On Friday, we went to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Oh, what an incredible experience it was.
The entrance to the Center
The Center's CEO, Derreck Kayongo, co-founder of the Global Soup Project, gave us one of the most incredible speeches I've ever heard. It was inspirational, hilarious, powerful. Derreck taught us an African folk tune after the speech, and the sound of 150 scholars singing along, the way we swayed like wheat in summer winds, our feet planted, our eyes focused, our ears listening everywhere, to everything, for one reason: in that moment, we were unified. In that moment, we felt, from our soles to our souls, the same rhythm dancing in us all.
Dr. Philip McAdoo, our fearless subunit 7A leader
One thing I will never forget. Inside this Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) exhibit, there was an installation that people waited in long lines for. Essentially, it mimicked the 1960 Greensboro sit-in. Let me explain: there was a long "table counter." You, the "protester," would sit down and put on the headphones they provided. You are invited to close your eyes and leave your hands flat, palm down, on the table. Suddenly, you hear shouts. Slurs, threats, sirens pound your ears, and somewhere someone is screaming, someone is being beaten, your friends near you are yanked out of their seats, violence as imprinted into the clamor as the crescendo of your own quickening heartbeat. If your hands leave the table--because you were frightened, agitated, who knows--it's over. The recording is finished. I managed to keep my hands still until the very end of the recording, but the experience shook me. I had never before realized just how much bravery and an almost heroic sort of foolishness it takes to fight for justice in such a hate-carved world. Needless to say, I was endlessly inspired but, even more than that, grateful for all the pain that those before us have suffered to try to make this world a better place.

We were suppose to go to the World of Coca-Cola following the Center, but Atlanta suffered a city-wide power outage. The CCSF staff were incredible enough to shift the schedule so that we got to go on Saturday, even if only for a short amount of time. 
Everyone always makes such a big deal about Beverly, but I don't think it's THAT bad. There was a Sunfill that tasted like toothpaste though. Ugh ugh ugh. (Yes, the World of Coca-Cola had a place where you could try different Coke-owned products from around the world.)
After the World of Coca-Cola visit, we all went to Parklane Elementary School for a community service project. Since the selection of coke scholars depends in part (and quite heavily so) on community service, this was such a wonderful culminating project. I, however, left my phone and camera on the bus so I could focus completely on the project, so I have no pictures. Basically, my group painted curbs! :)

Saturday night, we went to the Coca-Cola headquarters for what I can only describe as the best party I've ever been to.
Me and my roommate, the tireless Nadya Okamoto