Class of 2015
On June 25th, 2010, Emma McGee left Sonoma California for Cambodia and Laos with no possessions other than one chili-colored backpack half full of the basics. As part of the Rustic Pathways program, she spent a month experiencing life as a rural villager, planting gardens, digging pipelines, and helping to build a school.
"I lived for a month with bucket showers, squat toilets, and a language I was barely learning to comprehend," Emma says. This experience of sharing the day to day life of the villagers galvanized Emma's already accomplished history of volunteerism – she has organized a campaign to provide polio vaccinations in India, raised funds for earthquake relief in Haiti, and worked to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in her local community– into the desire to dedicate her future to advocacy.
"My experiences in Cambodia and Laos have grounded me and given me a starting point on which to build a career dedicated to improving living conditions on a global scale," Emma says.
In addition to being honored for her dedication to the causes of others with the Press Democrat's Community Youth Service Award, Emma has been successful academically as top of her graduating class and salutatorian. She has excelled athletically as MVP and captain of both the cross-country and track and field teams and as the recipient of her school's Scholar Athlete of the Year Award. She has flourished creatively, acting as Beatrice in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, learning African dance and teaching herself to play the guitar.
"I am inspired by Shakespearean dramas and irregular Spanish verbs, by bacteria growing in petri dishes and by complex derivatives. It is this vibrant conglomeration of different areas of study that allows me to bridge diverse disciplines, keeps me inspired, and feeds my intellectual curiosity."
Upon returning to the US from Cambodia and Laos. Emma began volunteering at a local soup kitchen in order to maintain a connection to the outreach work she had begun abroad. She soon discovered that empathy and compassion were as important to the people she waited on as the food. Jumping at the opportunity to practice her Spanish with the guests, some of whom were connected with the migrant labor community working in Sonoma's wine industry, she began to talk with them, exchanging stories, jokes and philosophies.
As she had with the villagers during her stay in Cambodia and Laos, Emma again experienced the way in which cross-cultural exchange opens up new avenues for advocacy. "Through my experiences at the soup kitchen, I gained a new perspective on the inequalities within my own community and how they can be fixed," she says.
Now, as she looks forward to her life at NYU Abu Dhabi and the opportunities it will afford her to interact with students and cultures from across the globe, Emma's resolve to pursue a life of advocacy is strong. She says, "I hope to look back and say 'I have made a difference in people's lives. I have witnessed fulfillment.'"