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She’s gorgeous and so well spoken, the kind of woman who commands your attention when she walks in the room, simply by her presence and confidence. I find myself captivated when she speaks because her words come out so eloquently. Why didn’t I think to say that?

She took the seat next to me in class yesterday. We sat awkwardly during snack time while most other people browsed their phones or huddled in groups. I have to know her story. So I struck up a conversation.

Her passion is working with indigenous people through education. She’s taught on a Navajo reservation in Arizona and worked in Ghana and South Africa. She’ll get her Master’s soon and, after that, her Ph.D. She was born in Nigeria but has lived in the U.S. most of her life.

“And you?” she asks.

What to say after that? I’m usually pretty confident but when I perceive someone to be more intelligent or put together than me I tend to doubt myself. Here it goes.

I tell her that I graduated university in 2011 with a degree in Peacebuilding and Development, that I volunteered with a non-profit in NYC for a year called the Community Development Project, that, since moving to Philly, I’ve worked mostly various part-time jobs for a church and a bakery and a small non-profit, that I now work at Penn.

“Wow, a renaissance woman.” She said with a smile.

I laughed, a little too loudly probably. More like rundown woman. Or restless woman. Or broke, depressed, and hopeless woman.

I was shocked that a person who I perceived to have it all figured out found something fascinating in my life story. And it struck me how important it is to take a step back and look at your life through someone else’s eyes– you never know where someone will see beauty where you see brokenness.

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