2011 ESI Luke Mehmeti speech
Northwestern Evans Scholar Luke Mehmeti spoke at the 2011 Evans Scholars Invitational at Onwentsia Club on Monday, August 1. Below is his full speech:
'The ultimate gift'
I am truly honored to speak to all of you tonight. I would like to begin by offering a snapshot of what began this incredible journey. March 31, 1999. I sat in our living room with both of my parents in the war torn country of Kosovo, listening to the news. As I played with my legos, I knew something was horribly wrong, even as a seven year old. My dad put his coat on, picked me up, and hugged me. With tears streaming down his face, he told my mom to, “Be strong, and take care of the kids.” On that fateful day, the Serbian army went through every home and took each male, regardless of age, involvement, or any other circumstance.
As my own dad stood by the door, we watched and waited. While the paratroopers came up the stairs of our apartment, the cries of families behind them became louder. When they were only several feet away from our front door, a radio call came in. They turned around, and we realized our first miracle. Throughout the next three months, we watched as everything we had grown to call home was burned, broken, and flattened. I watched my parents stoop from their careers as college educated mechanical engineers to become two people fighting desperately to pull their children out of the oppression that was the Serbian genocide.
After fleeing Kosovo, we were forced to live in a Macedonian refugee camp located in the barren mountains. Two meals per day, identification by a refugee number, and living in a small tent with up to 70 others became daily life. As we watched others lose their personal battle to everything from lack of medical resources to malnutrition, we never stopped fighting our own. Our dream was to leave Kosovo forever, to move to the United States, to use our newfound inspiration in a place where the sky is the limit. Then came our second miracle. Our immediate family was selected to emigrate to the United States, and with that offer, we blindly boarded a plane and headed to a place unfamiliar to us, holding only the promise of a better life, of an education for my brothers and me.
Forty hours and four flights later, we landed in Michigan City, Indiana, where we encountered the first glimpse of that dream. It was soon thereafter that we met our latest miracle: Mike Merucci, Mike Donovan, Mike Kaiser, and Jeff Harrison. The likes of these people provided hope and assurance that our sacrifices and hard work would not go unnoticed. As we struggled to acclimate, as my parents fought to support a family with no proof of education and no knowledge of the English language, these amazing people held a promise for a better future. Through caddying at the Dunes Club, my brother Alban and I were hopeful that one day, the dream we had dreamed for so long might possibly come true. In early April of 2003, the first letter, addressed to Alban, came in the mail. The words on the short letter told of the life-changing gift that our family would receive. The emotion in the room, the tears, and the journey which began that day, however, told of the wonder and blessing that is the Evans Scholarship.
On Thanksgiving Day of 2009, I received my own letter in the mail. As I held in my hands the key to my future, the years leading up to that moment flashed back once more. The memories of paratroopers, guns, and desperate looks on my parents’ faces, the vows and sacrifices that my parents made just to ensure that we would get an education, and the unparalleled generosity of Jeff Harrison, Mike Donovan, the entire WGA, and all of you here tonight. This scholarship has given me the opportunity to attend Northwestern University, a place which has already changed my life in unimaginable ways. It has given me the opportunity to work with one of the leading medical research teams in the nation. It has given me the opportunity to be selected as a peer adviser and thus pass on my love of Northwestern to 15 incoming freshman. It has given me the opportunity to be elected president of the undergraduate premedical society.
Above all, however, it has given me the opportunity to befriend 40 other inspirational Scholars, in a house where the dedication and devotion to success is almost tangible. When friends visit to study or do homework, they walk around our Scholarship House in awe, asking, “What in the world did you do to deserve this?” My answer, a simple shrug and a smile. The real answer, however, is that I don’t think anyone can do anything to deserve this. One man had a dream, amazing people set out to make it a reality, and this is the product of their efforts. This scholarship is a gift on the part of the WGA and a promise on the part of the scholars, a promise to accept the selflessness and generosity that you have shown and make our dreams a reality.
Speaking to you tonight, I am faced with the difficult task of trying to convey my gratitude for what you all have contributed to this incredible program. In all honesty, I have no clue how, and I think that words cannot do it justice, but I have to try. The Evans Scholarship is not a just a program or an award. It is a force, a symbol, a true miracle for so many people like me. In grade school, everyone tells you, “You can be anything you want!” This program hands you a letter that literally says, “Here are the means for you to become everything you’re capable of.” Is that not the ultimate gift? It is proof that the wildest dreams can certainly come true. I am so grateful for the people I have met through this program and the example they have set for me. I am so grateful for the inspiration that this program has given me, beyond what my parents and my past already had, to succeed and go above and beyond in preparation for the rest of my life. Above all, however, having witnessed first-hand the atrocities that mankind is capable of, I am so grateful for the entire blessing that is the Evans Scholarship, a contrast which has shown me the good that people are capable of.
My expressions of gratitude often sound overused, especially when I interact with anyone involved with this scholarship, but they will never lose their value. They will never fail to send that undeniable and unexplainable feeling of gratitude through my entire body. No matter how repetitive they sound, they will never lose their meaning. I know that these words can never fully encompass my deepest emotions, but I have to say them regardless. Thank you.
Mehemti also was featured in a short clip on NBC. Check out a video of his journey here: http://www.nbcchicago.com/on-air/as-seen-on/mehmetti-evans-scholarship-125453333.html