Student Speaker: Prasidh Arora

Prasidh Arora

Good evening friends, family, faculty, siblings that were forced to be here, and most importantly, good evening to my fellow graduates. It’s incredible to be speaking in front of all of you.

Today, I wish to tell you 3 simple stories from my life, in hopes that they may inspire you or help you in some way as they did me. Each of these stories has been a life lesson for me, and I hope that they might be useful at some point in each of your lives. However, I don’t want to sound all-knowing or anything, after all I’m the same age as all of you, probably younger actually. These are just 3 stories from my life that have taught me a lot and I hope you all can take something out of it too.

My first story is about taking a leap of faith.

Growing up, my family moved countries every 3 years. I’ve never called one place “home”. As soon as something became normal, it was time to pack up our house and move to a new continent. And every time someone hears this, without missing a beat, they ask “what’s been your favorite place?” Well, a little over 4 years ago, I was a scrawny Indian kid finishing my senior year of high school in Mozambique (in South East Africa). Well, in all fairness, the scrawny and Indian parts haven’t changed. That kid had no idea what was coming for him. I had just been admitted to a liberal arts university in the middle of Ohio—a university I had only known through a website and some Google images. And just like all of you, I’ve spent the past 4 years here making memories that simply can’t be replaced.

I had my first college roommate here, Steven. Months filled with laughter and writing on giant white boards. I danced my first Diwali function. Joined organizations like Engineers Without Borders, working side-by-side with Anne and Bryce that work every day to change the world around us.

Got my first job as an RA here making friends I can’t imagine college without. I learned how to code here. Spent hours talking with the wonderful engineering professors here. I fell in love here and consequently, had my first heartbreak here.

Back then, I had the chance to go to a university in a big city close to home, somewhere comfortable and easy. Yet, something convinced me to be irrational, illogical and leave everything that I know behind to come here, 9000 miles away. There will come a time, probably multiple times, in your life when you’re given the opportunity to do something completely new. Something illogical. Something out of the ordinary. It requires, if you will, a leap of faith. “The act of believing in or accepting something intangible or unprovable or without empirical evidence.”

Given the chance, I encourage you to take that leap of faith because something incredible could be on the other side. And at risk of sounding incredibly corny, if you ask me now what’s been my favorite place, without hesitation, I would reply, “our beloved, Oxford, Ohio”.

My second story is about grieving and resilience.

Life is unpredictable in beautiful ways. Life is also incredibly fragile. Everything can be normal one moment and completely changed the next. And we have no words, no language, no capacity to face this, together or as individuals. The spring break of my sophomore year, I hiked the first 50 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

It was truly one of the most beautiful weeks of my life. Ironically, 3 weeks later, just 2 years and 25 days ago, I was paralyzed from the chest down and my life changed forever. I spent 21 days in the ICU fighting for my life. My parents, who lived in London at the time, flew here to be with me.

The following 6 months were spent inpatient in London doing therapy 7 hours a day, 6 days a week. All this for just for the slightest glimmer of hope that I would walk again. The journey has been one hell of a roller coaster. At the end of each day, I felt like I’d achieved absolutely nothing.

Yet, I was forced to wake up every morning no matter my pain level and start a full day of therapy over again. If I didn’t, I’d be left thinking that that day could have been the day my leg muscles gave a little life-changing twitch. And some days I got twitches. Many twitches. Unfortunately, not twitches strong enough YET to get me back up and walking.

For many months after my paralysis and in many times since, grief had taken over my life. I grieved the loss of something most of us takes for granted. I grieved the loss of the simple ability to get out of bed every morning and just stand. I grieved the loss of the ability to walk, run, jump, hike the Appalachian Trail once again. I grieved the loss of normality. If only someone could have told me when it was going to be my last day walking.

Unfortunately, everyone here, at some point, will go through something that causes you grief. In these moments, life will be incredibly hard. And although this might not seem relevant now, you will almost certainly go through adversity. I’m sorry but a loved one will die, you will lose your dream job, hearts will break, limbs might be lost, and this will suddenly become so relevant.

However, as those of you who have already had one of these experiences know, there is a hard truth that follows: you will most likely survive. You may not come out better or happier, but you will survive. And that’s critical, because you are defined, not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive. People bounce back from hardship in different ways. And it’s when you hit your personal rock bottom that you bounce back more resilient.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, says that we don’t have a “fixed amount of resilience. It’s a muscle we can build. And even more powerfully, we become resilient for others.” When you find yourself or a friend going through adversity, I want you to remember that it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to not be okay. Because what follows adversity is resilience and strength like you’ve never experienced before.

Going back to Sandberg’s quote, “when [you, or] the people close to [you] are struggling, [you] find strength that [you] didn’t know [you] had. After facing hardship, one of the ways [you] grow is to help others, especially in the same kinds of situations where [you’ve] been hurt.” It took me a lot of suffering to learn this. I hope you can learn from this now, in your moment of joy.

My last story is about community.

After my paralysis and semester off, I made the difficult decision to return to Miami. It was my first time in the real world in a wheelchair. And It was tough. I didn’t have time to cope with things. I began my junior year as a different person than I was at the end of my sophomore year. There were constant reminders around me about how “things used to be.” But I decided to start trying. I started doing what was reasonable, expected, ordinary: talking on the phone, replying to emails, reading a book, picking up a circuit, coding once again. Nodding back at people that told me everything was going to be okay.

What I didn’t realize is that I was starting my life again surrounded by people who were, and still are, far from ordinary. My Miami family that called and texted me every single day I was in the hospital for months. My Miami friends that drop everything and still drive me to the hospital when I inevitably fall sick. People that pick me up when I am at my lowest. Quite literally, people have carried me on their backs. (Shout out to Brent, thanks for the lift.)

And most importantly, I have parents and a wonderful sister who are willing to give up their jobs and sacrifice all their time just to ensure I get the best therapy and have an easier life ahead. I am beyond grateful for this community. I am grateful for the kindness of my friends, the love of my family and the support I have found here at Miami, not on the easy days but on the hard days. We find our humility, our will to live, and our ability to love, in our relationships with each other. As you go on to your future endeavors, be there for your family and friends. Be there for your fellow Miamians. And most importantly, no matter where you go after graduation, be grateful for the community around you.

If nothing else, I hope you remember 3 things after going uptown for one last time tonight:

1) take a leap of faith.

2) Live everyday like it is the last day you can walk, and

3) surround yourself with people that love you. Thank you Miami and congratulations to the class of 2019.