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Distance Brings Us Together

Reflecting on the upcoming Liberty and Leadership program graduation, I've come to realize how strong our relationships across the world have strengthened this year despite a global pandemic that has kept many of us at home since March.

Article by Michael Bailey October 8, 2020 //   5 minute read

Reflecting on the upcoming Liberty and Leadership program graduation, I've come to realize how  our relationships across the world have strengthened this year despite a global pandemic that has kept many of us at home since March. My takeaways are simple: relationships matter, we learn so much by listening to each other, and you are never too far away to get to get to know someone for who they are.

As we transitioned from in-person modules to virtual everything on Zoom, which to me always looks like the 21st Century version of Hollywood Squares, I began to notice something. Regardless of where we were, from the United States to Burma, to Egypt, to Afghanistan, we were all going through an unprecedented time together. The question, “how are you doing?” wasn’t always answered with “great” anymore. Some of our Scholars lost jobs. Some had family members effected by COVID-19. Many, including myself, struggled with loneliness at times. Despite the seemingly endless challenges, one characteristic that did not change for any of our Scholars was their sense of resiliency and hope. Regardless of the situation, we were in this together, and we were going to be there for each other.  

From weekly webinars to virtual office hours over coffee, I’ve had the opportunity to ‘enter’ into the homes of our Scholars and learn more about what life is like for them (including the occasional interruption from pets and other family members, which I always love). Our Scholars have shared laughter together, they’ve cried together, and they’ve celebrated together. Many of these moments came naturally, and sometimes they happened in the simplest of gatherings.  

I remember celebrating with one of our Burmese Scholars who surprised us with a video of his newborn baby girl. New life is so encouraging in these difficult times!

When the explosion in Beirut occurred, I witnessed the entire WE Lead network coming together in support of our Lebanese alumnae affected by the disaster. While we will never be able to imagine what our Lebanese alumnae experienced that day, the support and compassion shared within the network was emotional and inspiring.

Finally, I was moved by the opportunity to bring Scholars and alumni across our LLP and WE Lead programs together to learn about what unites all of us in our leadership journeys through life. Part of being a leader is recognizing what your values are, how the unique challenges and opportunities in your life have shaped you, and understanding what matters to you.  But you never have to do this alone, and this conversation showcased just that by bringing together six countries on one Zoom call.

On Friday, October 16, the Bush Institute will graduate (virtually) the fourth class of 23 Scholars from Burma from the Liberty and Leadership Program. These Scholars represent the rich ethnic, political, and religious diversity of the country of Burma. As I think about the year we have had together (and what a year it has been), I am moved by the growth of these young leaders I am fortunate to call my friends. They show me every day the power we can collectively have when we respect our differences, listen and learn from each other’s experiences, and open ourselves up to vulnerability and compassion for each other.

As I sit in my apartment for the seventh month of working from home, I’ve learned that conversations can happen anytime, anywhere. We’re more in contact with our Scholars and alumni than ever before. Relationships matter. We can only do so much by ourselves, but when we take the time to listen, learn, and be authentic with each other, together, we have the power to create lasting change. Our Leadership Program networks across all four programs at the Bush Institute demonstrate this every day, and I am grateful to learn from their stories.

Up Next:

Scholar Spotlight: Q&A with Brent Taylor on October 7, 2020