The following blog was written by Jerome Allen, a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and the Bonner Leaders Program who has been working in the Ukraine through Peace Corps.
“Close your eyes. Breathe. Now, imagine yourself in front of the Campus Y in four years in your cap and gown. Have you changed? Imagine looking at the faces around you of your fellow Bonners. Imagine the warmth of their smiles and the feeling of accomplishment wash all over you. Now, open your eyes” With close ears to the instructions of the senior intern, Giovana Espejo, I peered with my inner eye into my destiny. I saw a blurry picture of an older, (hopefully) scruffier, and ultimately, enlightened version of myself that had a clear idea of where he would be heading in life. Well, that day came, and that day went. The blurry vision of myself became a reality, though scruff-less. I found myself at the dusk of college and dawn of a new beginning, also known as the “real world”.
Prior to that day, I chose to engage in the education sector of the Bonner Leaders’ Program. Spending my first three years with Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate (BRMA), I co-coordinated an afterschool program for Phillip’s Middle School students, where we worked on homework, talked about life-skills, and sometimes, chatted about life at thirteen years old. Some achievements for me was writing a Campus Y grant for school supplies, such as pencils and calculators, to be used for homework and other projects. BRMA was initially my first job in my life, and one that will stay with me forever.
In the summer before my senior year, I made a difficult decision. I decided to leave BRMA. Feelings of stagnation in my work, complacency in personal growth, and dissatisfaction with the revolving door of the non-profit world left me disillusioned with my tenure in BRMA. Though tough for both sides, I was face-to-face with one of the bittersweet lessons of adulthood – knowing how to be an advocate for yourself and how to say “no”. I did not want to reach that vision of warmth and accomplishment in front of the Campus Y, reluctantly. I wanted to know, for sure, what I did was intertwined with the amount of change I experienced during my time in UNC.
Following a series of meetings, I landed in the Jackson Center, working for Fusion Youth Radio. This was a program focused on bringing youth to the radio waves of Orange County to speak about social topics important locally and globally. As a WXYC radio DJ, I was able to coordinate with the station about the scope of FYR, timing, labeling, and publicity. I also worked with youth on ideation and research for programming. An example of a show topic was the refugee crisis in Myanmar and the diaspora in Chapel Hill. For this program, I also had a chance to write a collaborative grant for FYR youth and Blackspace youth to travel to Detroit for an art-driven media conference.
Then, it happened. My name was called. I shook a few hands, took more than a few pictures, and said way more than a few good-byes. My time at UNC and Bonner was over. I walked away with a double B.A. in Dramatic Arts and Environmental Studies. I opened my eyes and saw us, the senior class, at the cusp of our destiny. Dramatic as that may sound, the angst, anxiety, and overall mental exhaustion of the inevitable departure from everything comfortable is scary and then, the blurry vision becomes a dark, stormy day of debt, loneliness, and the woes of adulthood raining down on you.
As a survivor of graduation, I found that nothing changes, except the location and activities. Being an independent of the world is liberating, and “oh, the places you’ll go”. Bonner gave me the technical and intellectual prowess to apply to the Peace Corps to continue work in the social justice world. A few months after graduation day, I was in Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer working in the education sector. I became a “Teaching English as a Foreign Language Instructor”; I worked in summer camps focused on gender empowerment, multiculturalism, and sexual health; I advocated for LGBTQ+ rights. On top of that, I applied all the development principles from Bonner to an international cross-cultural level. Taking note of this thread, I returned to Bonner as an alum to speak on a panel about my experiences. Though surreal, the feeling of everything coming full circle was apparent.
“Close your eyes. Breathe. Now, imagine you will be..?” Repeating the exercise without the guise of a fixed institution makes it increasingly difficult. I speculate I will be traveling throughout South America, finding marketing work in a start-up in NYC, and then entering graduate school for acting and theatre for social change, but, if there is one thing, Peace Corps has taught me is that anything can happen.