Dear: America’s Best Foot Forward

posted by: Kathryn Schmidt

Dear:  2016 Spring SST-ers,

During one of our meetings you dubbed yourselves America’s Best Foot Forward, because that is what you aimed to be during your SST term.  I’d like to congratulate you on being exactly that.  Thank you for proving that America’s next generation can be: caring, empathetic, compassionate, great listeners, quick to learn and communicate in Spanish, deeply spiritual, soul-seekers, singers, dancers, jokers, culturally sensitive, courageous, athletic, and BRAVE.

Remember how our theme was “Pilgrimage”?  We decided that a pilgrimage was a journey of import, that would serve to transform the character of the pilgrim.  We certainly witnessed this in each one of you: a subtle, but powerful transformation that will serve you well.  You all learned to be resilient, and to roll with surprising shifts.   You started out on those first days as a group of sweet, Gringo goslings all walking in a row.  Quietly taking it all in.  You left as more worldly-wise travelers, able to tackle hard projects.  Independent.  Tougher, and yet more flexible.  Open. (Aka: more willing to talk about poop.)

As I read through your service journals I feel such a bond with each one of you.  Kris and I agree that our time spent with you was a highlight of our lives, and you’ve taught us each so much.  Here’s some personal reflections on each one of you—

Andrew: your sense of quiet leadership and pastoral care is amazing; you are so much more than just a guitar player and singer!  (Although you’re very gifted there, too.)

Jacob: your diligence and attention to detail reminds me of a certain Biology professor also involved in this project.  The way you handled that harrowing boar-bite-to-the-leg shows your courage.  Bravo.

Sarah: you have a deep strength beneath that soft exterior.  Your quiet perseverance inspires me still; did you expect to encounter 3 tarantulas and be totally fine with it? But you were!

Melanie: you were very courageous with that tender post-op knee; you completed so many hikes and walks that would make your surgeon cringe, but that I also found rather amazing.  Any soccer team is lucky to have you!

Sadie: you’ll always be the one who put your arm around me during that freaky mountain-side van ride.  You’re as nurturing as you are musical, which is saying a lot.

Lena: you’re the one who carried my backpack on that extraordinary, extra-large hike.  I was convinced we’d be eaten by pumas but your cheerfulness kept me going that day, and many others–each SST unit should have a sunny person like you.

Abby: thank you for being just downright strong. When things got crazy, you were our vocal barometer.  We’re so grateful for you because there were so many times we needed to know how things were going.  Of course, your undying affection for Zachary wins the prize for this group.

Dona: as our only Canadian, bravo for making us so proud!  You have a quiet wisdom that is way beyond your years, which made people just want to be near you.

Marissa: you are also very mature and I sometimes forgot that you’re not my peer!  I think, actually, you are.

Kenan: our strong, silent guy.  Such an asset to the group due to quiet, patient strength.  And plays a mean recorder!

David: thank you for giving us quite possibly my all-time-favorite family photo, and for so many other incredible shots.  And for always making us laugh.

Bekah: for quietly coping with motion sickness on those harrowing switch-back bus rides, and also for the courageous ways you faced our most isolated service locale of the term.  You surprised yourself, I think, and taught me so much through your process.

Katie: a gracious softie; it was so exciting when you’d burst out into laughter or start singing. Please keep singing.

Brynn: our mothering, caring girl who took care of many (thus making our lives easier), and learned a deeper inner strength in the process.

Chelsea: your “can do” cheerful attitude made things, just, easier.  I always looked out for your smiling, enthusiastic nods, feeling confident that things would be ok.  Thank you for that.

And last but not least, Ashley: the VIP of this group, for quietly surviving the WORST allergic reaction on your legs that we’ve all ever seen, and for teaching us (the hard way) to wear pants to the community garden next time!  And for surviving LICE, again, without complaint.  You are an inspiration to us all.

In closing, dear best-foot-forward, please remember that once upon a time in Peru you certainly did put your best foot forward.  Surely this experience will help you in whatever challenges you meet.  C’mon, you slept in a house with a huge duck for a pet!  You used holes for toilets, you hiked at night, you got soaked by a jungle waterfall.  You dealt with stomach cramping and wild food, you crossed harrowing 10-lane roads and boarded buses to you-were-not-sure-where.  You ate guinea pig.  GUINEA PIG.  You battled tarantulas, boars, thistle weeds and lice.  You did tricky things that compelled you to say, ‘I’m sure glad my mom’s not here to see this.’  (Sorry, Moms!)

So get out there.  Keep on putting those feet forward.  Be a pilgrim and expect transformation.  Look for surprises.  Talk about poop.  Be brave.  We love you.

your humble leaders and fellow pilgrims,

Kathryn and Kris