Uncovering Vocation Series
Uncovering Vocation is a partnership between Campus Ministry and the Christensen Center for Vocation at Augsburg University. Every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month, a member of the Augsburg community is invited to share a component of their vocation story. It has become a way of building community, becoming reacquainted with one another, and celebrating the diversity of people and vocations that make Augsburg University the beautiful place it is.
I’m going to start by reading a few quotes that I find fit well in the story I’m about to share.
- American Author Jacqueline Woodson shares that “Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together.”
- Another American Author Audre Lorde explained once that “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
- Howard Schultz, a business figure was quoted saying: “I’ve traveled around the world, and what’s so revealing is that, despite the differences in culture, politics, language, how people dress, there is a universal feeling that we all want the same thing. We deeply want to be respected and appreciated for our differences.”
- American minister and activist Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
The last quote by MLK really resonates with me because as a teenager, I came to the United States on a foreign student visa albeit not on a ship but I am indeed in the same boat now.
On that note, let me introduce myself, my story and why I chose to speak about harmony through Unity. I hope to show through some of my stories why I feel my calling is that of a unifying person.
I was born in the “République de Côte d’Ivoire” in West Africa known in English as the Ivory Coast, to Lebanese parents in a mostly French speaking household. I grew up exposed to Ivorian, Lebanese and French cultures and foods.
Fortunate to experience travel often and from an early age across Africa, Europe and America contributed to my desire to learn other languages and experience other cultures.
This, I believe, shaped the adult I became and person I am today. Experiences and friendships gained throughout my life have been varied and colorful in the most wonderful ways and have definitely been learning opportunities and growth triggers.
From an early age, I felt that desire to connect and bring people together. As I talk through some of my experiences, this will hopefully become apparent.
After arriving to the United States, I was immediately drawn to connect with other students learning English at the Pacific English Language Institute (PELI) in San Luis Obispo, California. Although my English was satisfactory at the time, I was required to take the TOEFL or Test of English as a Foreign Language in order to join the local 2-year Community College. It was a rewarding feeling to get a group of PELI students to break barriers by creating opportunities for all to connect through meaningful conversations, activities and games. I learned a lot about Japanese culture for example among many other things. There were students from a handful of countries from Asia, Europe and South America.
Shortly after joining Cuesta Community college three months later, I quickly realized that there was no organization on campus that connected the diverse groups of people represented there. So along with a couple of like-minded friends, I decided to create a club that would just do that. Empowered by the multitude of resources available at the time, I was able to draw up some bylaws and create the MCC or the Multi-Cultural Club, which was the first of its kind in that campus’s history. The MCC quickly grew to include over fifty members. Through activities that included folklore dancing, singing and reading events, ethnic food fairs, fundraisers and more, the club’s intent was in full display by exposing people to different experiences and cultures. The college paper also ran an article at the time to promote the organization and to encourage membership.
After graduating with an AA in linguistics, I transferred to a four-year university in Fresno, California. I stayed involved by working for the International Students Office, where I would welcome and assist International Students through their journey at the school. In that capacity, I was able to be part of many events that brought people together from all areas of the world. Again, I felt fulfilled by connecting with a lot of people from many different walks of life. The beauty of working for the International Students Office is that it was in no way limited to foreign students so that others could join the events and students from abroad could learn first-hand about American culture. American families would host events for all to join. It was a great feeling all around.
As a student majoring in Business Administration, I also got involved with organizations like the International Business Association and I was voted president of the Financial Management Association. Although I was not a Finance major, I took it as an opportunity to influence further the cause of promoted diversity I had started at Cuesta College. This allowed me to further promote inclusivity in a different setting and through these organizations.
While attending Fresno State University and probably because of my active involvement on Campus, I was invited to join a select group of students to a diversity retreat at a lake resort in the Sierra Nevada mountains above Fresno. There, students shared their stories and background and got to cook together and mingle during an extended weekend. This was a great experience I will never forget.
Another experience I would share where I wanted to embrace diversity was my enrollment in Chinese Mandarin classes. I had lived with a family from Taiwan in San Luis Obispo for a short time and picked up a few words. It was only logical that I should pursue another language I felt connected to through them.
As a French Citizen and before my last year at Fresno State University, I was required to attend a summer military bootcamp in France in order to push back my draft by 1 year so that I could graduate without delay (the French military was compulsory then). I ended up joining the paratrooper’s unit. There, I again met a lot of diverse people and worked to promote camaraderie and togetherness. As the pattern now shows, I encouraged my new friends to connect and share their experiences. Although it was just a summer, I stayed in touch with most for many years.
Once I joined the workforce in the late nineties, I tried to apply the same principles to my work. I often would create opportunities for people to come together and connect as I’m sure some of my colleagues here at Augsburg can attest, I do that every late spring by inviting all to a gathering at my house. I’m still in touch with some of my old colleagues like a team I managed at HealthPartners. One of my colleagues there once wrote a recommendation and I’d like to read a passage from it that I think really captures well what I’m trying to convey: “Jad brought us together and took a personal interest in us as individuals and a team. He brought cohesiveness and camaraderie and helped us become aware of our different strengths so we were able to utilize the knowledge of our team members to gain perspective on the issues we solve daily. Our team is better and stronger due to Jad’s leadership!”.
In summary, looking in and analyzing what I feel really is my vocation and from the few examples I’ve shared out of the many more I did not or wouldn’t have time to share, I would say that connecting, uniting and bringing people together as they are is truly what has driven me. I think that what I’ve learned most from these experiences is that regardless of your background, religion, creed, race, ethnicity, culture or orientation, you should always interact with people based on the way they treat you and others, based on their personal traits and character rather than their affiliations because although we are all different in our own ways, at the end of the day, as Schultz puts it, “we deeply want to be respected and appreciated for our differences.”
It is only fitting that I ended up at Augsburg where I feel we live these values every day.