Kermit, Art, and Movement Building

My 2011 senior speech at the GlobeMed Annual Summit


If I had to determine the most important influences on my convictions as an advocate for social change from all of the books, characters, organizations, teachers, travels, and opportunities I have encountered, I would have to say, GlobeMed and Kermit the Frog. For those of you only vaguely acquainted with Kermit, he is the determined little frog at the helm of a bombastic band of Muppets. Though the Muppets face many trials and tribulations in show business, Kermit is always there with spirit and contagious optimism, inspiring his friends to carry on and build a movement of laughter, confidence, and playful anarchy among children of all ages. In the immortal words of Kermit,

Well, I’ve got a dream too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And, well, I’ve found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream. And it kind of makes us like a family.
— Kermit

Although GlobeMed is not dealing with singing and dancing, I think that Kermit’s message can speak to all of us. We’re all here because we’re excited. We share a dream about a more equitable world; a dream that gets brighter and more real the more people we share it with. But unlike Kermit, we are making plans to pursue that dream through a unique combination of critical analysis, education, and partnership. GlobeMed’s ability to harness passionate optimism with critical action is the reason I have dedicated so many hours to this organization.

It’s the reason why I’m on a first-name basis with Northwestern’s event scheduling staff. It’s the reason why I have 9 different Gmail labels just for GlobeMed emails. It’s the reason why red and cream craft supplies have completely taken over my bedroom. And it’s the reason I cried for an hour the night we heard there would be a negative article about our fall fundraiser in our school paper. In retrospect, the article was not a big deal, but there’s was no telling me to calm down that night. So, GlobeMed has brought me some strife, but it’s also the reason why I can’t talk about my college extracurriculars without getting so excited that I start lisping, stuttering, and, on some occasions, spitting. It’s the reason why I have been able to participate in such meaningful dialogue on this campus and across this network of extraordinary people. It’s the reason I have had the opportunity to develop my interests within a supportive community. And it’s the reason why I have been transformed from a naïve do-gooder, motivated mostly by deeply entrenched Catholic guilt, to a passionate advocate of social justice, motivated by the beauty and power of collaborative partnership.

When I came to Northwestern as a freshman, I had no idea what was going on. The only thing I had ever considered doing with my life was singing opera. Weird life choice, I know, but I was born a hyper-active noise-maker. I learned to make noise on pitch and then just put one foot in front of the other until, 18 years later, I ended up a music performance major without ever really knowing why. Luckily, my interests began to evolve once I arrived at school. I was referred to GlobeMed by friends and professors at the end of freshman year, and decided to apply for the chapter. But, as some of you know, I was initially rejected from joining. Luckily, I’ve never been the type to ask for permission. I knew from my first impressions of GlobeMed, that I had a lot of learn from these people, so I started showing up to meetings anyway. My obnoxious persistence paid off because I learned more in that first year about the difficulties of responsible activism and the possible solutions for a better future than I had in my entire life preceding. I learned that when it comes to working in global health, nothing is more important than humility. It takes balls to put your ideas out there, but it requires something much greater to listen, to learn, to adapt, and to collaborate. I learned that you must have confidence and vision to relentlessly pursue your goals, but the humility to constantly adapt your means.

So, GlobeMed was already blowing my mind… and then came my first summit. I had never been a part of something like that before. The collective energy and drinking the KoolAid of global health equity imbued with such a sense of determination and conviction. GlobeMed had already changed my worldview, but the summit was when I realized the unique position we were carving out in this larger movement. It was when I realized the gravity of what we were doing and the call we were making to the people around us. For the first time, I realized that it wasn’t just isolated people idealizing a different world; it was something bigger and more powerful. And I was hooked.

That first summit reminded me of some other immortal words from Kermit,

Who said that every wish/would be hear and answered? When wished on the morning star/Somebody thought of that/and someone believed it/Look what its done so far.
— Kermit

We all thought of a future with more equitable healthcare and believed in our ability to make it happen. And look what is has done so far: we are 46 chapters and partners strong, advancing health, happiness, and equality from Nepal to Ghana to Nicaragua to Detroit. We have gone from idea to movement, and it’s still growing. This web of inspiration and activism is so beautiful to me, that I think it transcends the idea of a movement. I feel like I can’t call it anything less than art. I don’t want this to turn into an esoteric conversation on the definition of art- too many hipsters have stayed awake late into the night discussing this topic. But, in broad terms, I think art is something that inspires you to go through the world slightly different. Sometimes that means just recognizing beauty somewhere you wouldn’t have looked for it before, but other times, it fosters a complete transformation of your person and purpose, and inspires you to be better. This is undoubtedly how I would define GlobeMed.

People can spend their whole lives searching for something that inspires them to create, act, believe, and come alive, in whatever form that may take. I’m lucky enough to have found it in this community of individuals that combine all the hope of Kermit with all informed capability of pragmatists. The effect of all the events, the dialogue, the friendships, the GROW trips, the meetings, pale in comparison to the inspiration we give to our friends, chapters, partners, and community. GlobeMed is a testament that goodness, hope, and compassion, when met with pragmatic solidarity can inspire people to action. It’s an overwhelming form of beauty that is too vast to be contained by any museum. We are art; we are a movement.

Thank you for letting me be a part of it.