“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Two weeks after my family and I emigrated from our homeland of Kiev, Ukraine, to New York City, I burst into tears at the thought of learning a new language and adapting to a new school. As my grandfather walked me to my first day of Public School 197, his eyes glimmered as he described the opportunities the United States could provide, free of the anti-Semitism he tackled throughout his childhood. "Hard work is not lost in translation," he assured me.

I didn't recognize the full weight of his words on that chilly morning 19 years ago. With each passing year, I've gained a new-found appreciation of my family's sacrifice and resolve to provide me the opportunity for a brighter future. I know that opportunity is a privilege, and I intend to treat it as one.

I want to prove that the "American Dream" is alive, and help tackle the inequalities that keep so many jaded instead of hopeful. I want to use my love of language to articulate the big questions — about economic freedom, happiness, motivation, resilience, triumph and failure — and develop a meaningful dialogue. I want to help others expand the view of their own potential and take those lessons to heart in my own life. I want to define my own version of success. I want to show that some words bear repeating.

 

— Valerie Galinskaya