From Scholar Viraat

All content is © Copyright 2012 McLean County Diversity Project

I walked into the Chicago-Style Pizzeria for the annual Diversity Project pizza party my 7 th  grade year wholly unaware of what I would be getting myself into as a member of the McLean County Diversity Project.

For several years I had seen my sister and a few of my friends regularly go to something they called "interactions", spend a weekend at East Bay, and then leave for a week-long trip that had become synonymous with "fun" and "amazing". Needless to say, I was excited to be a part of such a group, but I still remember being frightened by the prospect of this new adventure with so many unfamiliar faces on that day.

I soon learned that my fears were unfounded. Becoming a member of the Project has allowed me to develop in more ways than I could have ever imagined, and I’ve grown more as an individual through the Project than perhaps any other medium.

As a scholar, I’ve learned how to critically approach matters, open myself up to new ideas and concepts, and appreciate the wealth of diversity of experiences, opinion, and beliefs in the world. As an individual, I’ve forged strong friendships with the diverse members in the Project and matured in the process. And now, as a senior, I’m hoping to guide the younger scholars in the same manner that seniors of past years guided me.

What is a senior scholar?

If I’d been asked this question my rookie year, I probably wouldn’t have been able to muster a profound answer other than "a scholar in their final year of the Project". However, as time passed and more and more groups of seniors graduated from the Project, I began to realize how integral a role they had played in applying their experience to serve as leaders that guided younger scholars like me on how to be open-minded and appreciate our positions as members of the Project.

Either directly or indirectly, they taught me how to ask thoughtful open-ended questions at interactions, included me in all the activities that they did, passed on fun games to play in our free time, and allowed me to make the most of the opportunities presented to me.

In all my years of looking up to the leaders who were the senior members of the Project (5 years, to be precise), I never once thought that I could fill their shoes.

As Jeff most succinctly put it at the conclusion of my penultimate year in the Project, we aren’t meant to fill the shoes of previous seniors but to instead "take their place".

I am now a senior scholar. The experiences that me and my fellow senior scholars have shared have molded us for this position of leadership.

Thus, being a senior scholar means to me to be in a position where I can help my fellow scholars and guide them in growing as an individual. It means being a person that other scholars can trust and being willing to take charge when the situation demands it. It means being receptive to new ideas and applying the critical thinking skills that the Project nurtures in all of its members. And most of all, it means welcoming and including all members of the Project from their very first meeting with the group at the Chicago-Style Pizzeria to the final senior night of the annual trip.

I can only hope that I’ll be as effective a guide to this year’s Project members and helpful in enriching their experience as a Diversity Project Scholar as all the previous years’ seniors have been to me.
- Viraat
Senior Veteran Scholar
McLean County Diversity Project

McLean County Diversity Project   c/o Jeffrey A. Schwartz   16043 Dorado Road Bloomington, IL 61705