I carry a piece of paper with me everywhere, and have been for over two years now.
The summer following my first year of college, I went on a month-long travel study program to Nepal. There was one moment of the trip in particular that has continued to motivate me to work harder and to do better. On the last day in Kathmandu at the end of the trip, our class visited a Rinpoche (reincarnated monk) at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. The Rinpoche gave each of us a Tibetan name, explaining the meaning of the name to us.
I was given the name “Ngawang Palmo,” which translates as “Courageous Owner of Speech.” Maybe it was because I was emotionally raw from the thought of leaving the country I had just fallen in love with, or maybe it was because my mind was brimming with new experiences from the past month, but receiving this name hit me hard. My first thought upon hearing the translation was shit.
I have to live up to this name.
I returned to Vermont with a new desire to make a difference in the world, no matter how small the scale. I realized I needed to use my own privilege to help the voices of others be heard. For my remaining time at the University of Vermont, I made an effort to choose classes and extracurriculars that centered on this goal. My anthropology classes certainly helped with this, and have modeled for me many ways that anthropologists can engage with the world around them. I also declared a second major in the Religion department, hoping to extend my anthropological studies and learn about something that has never been very present in my own life but is important to so many other people.
The following summer, I attended an international institute for Kingian Nonviolence and Conflict Reconciliation, where I not only learned how I could apply Dr. King’s principles to my own work, but I also made friends from around the world with whom I hope to work again.
This training, in combination with my trip to Nepal the summer before, pushed me to consider working on a collaborative research project with one of my Nepali friends and colleagues from the institute. Her PhD research is focused on Peace and Conflict studies in Nepal, where she works with women who were victims of the 10-year civil war. With my background in Anthropology and Religion, and my experience working with audio visual elements, the two of us hope to collaborate on a multimedia project in the coming years after I graduate.
These plans still seem incredibly abstract and far away, but they also seem completely possible. I might have never considered taking such a direction in my life if I hadn’t been given a name to live up to.
I still have the piece of paper that the name is written on, and I carry it in my wallet as a constant reminder of what I work towards.