I asked Sonia Kinkhabwala ’21, recipient of the President’s Award for Community Service and member of the Aim 4 civic leadership program, to share her reflections on this moment in her William & Mary story.
“We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”
– Thomas Merton
As I begin my third year at William & Mary, I marvel at how fast and how slow time has gone. My journey as a part of the Tribe has been full of fast, sincere friendships and meaningful moments. It has also been peppered with countless periods of the ambiguity, uncertainty, and confusion that pave the way for growth and development. In each stage of my William & Mary experience, I have been blessed with diverse, varying pockets of community and belonging. Each of these entities has in turn, taught me important lessons about cultivating community in their own unique way. This is where the beauty of my William & Mary experience lies – in the infinitely wonderful cycle of experiencing connection and facilitating that connection with those around me.
More than any other time at William & Mary, my freshman year was laced with moments of anxiety. Far away from my close-knit hometown in New Jersey and the family I love so dearly, I struggled to feel at peace in this wonderful, welcoming place that I wholeheartedly loved and yet, did not provide the comfort of the familiar. It was in that vulnerable time that I met Diane*, an elder experiencing hospice care and living with a condition that left her mute. At 86, Diane had lived a full life. She grew up in rural Virginia and had moved to Williamsburg to be closer to her son as she aged. She decorated her living space with her big loves – mystery novels (especially those of Agatha Christie!), cats (stuffed animals!), and her large extended family (with beautiful portraits of the grandchildren!). As winter bloomed into a vibrant spring in the ‘Burg, I basked in my friendship with Diane. In the silence we shared, Diane gave me a respite from the hustle and bustle of college life that sometimes proved overwhelming for a first-year student. As my peers and I exploded into William & Mary, eager to find our stride in our new home – Diane gently reminded me of a vital truth. With her warm smile and patient ear, she showed me that in finding meaningful community, being one’s authentic self is more than enough. While it might seem simple, that compassionate message allowed me to grow into a sense of belonging as a part of the Tribe. It gave me permission to be myself at all times, and trust that those willing to embrace that truth would come into my life.
Now, as I embark on the second half of my college career, I hold a space in my heart for Diane. It is the same space occupied by my unconditionally loving freshman hallmates, the deeply thoughtful peers that I have engaged in heart-to-heart conversations with long into the night, the professors and mentors who have empowered and challenged me, and Ms. Angela who gives me a smile as I walk into Sadler. It is this space and these people that inspire me to cultivate meaning and community, and show people that they too will find it with another.
– Sonia Kinkhabwala