The following is my speech from International Speech Contest at Toastmasters (April 2016), for which I won the Second Place at the District level!
“Imagine a big explosion as you drive through the Holland Tunnel to Manhattan. Imagine witnessing the great symbols of American financial strength burn and collapse to the ground. Ashen faces walking north, crying, and holding one another, just walking as far as they could from the horror they had just witnessed. Imagine!
Well, I had a plan that day. The plan was to discover and roam around NY City and then have lunch with my Uncle at Windows on the World, on the 106th floor of the WTC. It had only been a few months since I arrived to the City that never sleeps, to pursue higher education. There was still a lot to be explored and seen and my Programming class wasn’t until late afternoon.
Instead I see, grown men fallen to their knees, sobbing. I took out my cell phone only realizing no circuit is available. I ran out of the car looking for a phone booth but there were long lines. The streets were silent without subways, taxis or buses; only sirens could be heard through the canyons of buildings.
I could see in everyone’s eyes, it was terror. Life was over.
I was one of the lucky ones who survived the unexpected. As I witnessed the Big Apple turning into ashes, I learned a lot that day.
First, that it all changes in an instant. As I am running from my car looking for a phone booth I thought about all the people I wanted to reach out to that I didn’t, all the ‘I love you’s’ I wanted to say but didn’t, all the hugs I wanted to give but didn’t. All the people I wanted to mend my relationships with, all the grudges I wanted to let go off but didn’t. I wanted to call my grandfather and tell him that I am sorry for yelling at you. I wanted to call my mom and tell her that I love you and thank you for loving me unconditionally. But there was just one phone booth and a loooooooong line. As I thought about that later on, I no longer want to postpone communicating my feelings to anyone.
The second thing I learned – and this is when I see people helping each other, strangers hugging other strangers, everyone racing to the closest hospital to donate blood – that the world is actually a great place! Often we talk about the negativity that has clouded the world. How disasters provoke selfishness and brutal survival-of-the-fittest competition, but here I was in the middle of downtown witnessing how in times of need, we, the human race, striking back against the selfishness and greed of our modern world, and helping out other beings. People were panicked and running for their survival, but if someone fell down, they didn’t get trampled, they were helped up. People were acting selflessly. As I donated blood that evening, I experienced a serene sense of satisfaction, a satisfaction that I did something good for the humanity, a satisfaction that is still lingering with me after 15 years, a satisfaction that cannot be described in words but can only be felt.
And the third thing I realized was that I didn’t want to be just another software engineer. I wanted to change lives. I wanted to mold lives. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to give back. I wanted to be an educator. And that’s what I became. An Educator. And everyday I have that opportunity to mold those young, nascent, minds into constructive, compassionate human beings. This is my way of making sure that there is no another 9/11
I was given the gift of a miracle, of not dying that day. I was given another gift, which was to be able to see into the future and come back and live differently. Lets say you face a life death experience, I hope not – but imagine, and how would you change? Imagine what would you get done after you realize life is unpredictable and you won’t be here forever. Imagine the positive changes you would make within yourself and in your relationships. Imagine what the best self of you look like.
And now start working on it this very moment. For all we know there might not be a tomorrow!”