Dr. DEAN PAPADOPOULOS
Special to the Saipan Tribune
The recent Manta Ray Band story made me put-together a motivational presentation that I want to present here as text at what is a perfect time-before the school year begins and while young adults and complete adults contemplate whether they should enroll at the only accredited college on the island, Northern Marianas College. The presentation is titled “Eight Reasons Why If I Had to Choose Where I Was Raised I Would Choose Saipan.”
Everybody Gets A Chance
Much of what we say will have to do with that nature and benefits of living in a small, and as it also turns out, isolated region of the world-and that includes this point. Throughout rural America-that is, farming America-the benefit that is known to young people there is the same as here: If you want to try something, you can-even if you're not good at it. But, if it's your passion and perhaps your calling to develop that skill you can here on Saipan.
I will use my own place as a comparison and how what works here would not work there. I was on the North Shore of Chicago, which are the suburbs directly north of the Chicago-the third largest city in a country that is the third most populous in the world. It has 9 million people in it, and to give you a taste of that scale, my high school had 5,000 students in it and my graduating class had about 1,100 students in it. It has a 98 percent rate of students who go on to college. It is where the mayor of Chicago went to school, where Donald Rumsfeld went to school, where Anne Murray and Charlton Heston went to school.I could go on.but I won't. In my township, if you weren't already good at something, you simply did not get a chance, and that's why if I could, I would decide to grow up here.
No distractions allow you to deal with the goals you set for yourself without-you guessed it-distractions! Distractions are no small thing. Often, people who come from places that are large in land size and have a large population basically are not good at any one thing except, perhaps, dealing with distractions. The metropolitan area of Chicago, which includes the city and all surrounding suburbs, is 30 miles long from north to south. Add 9 million people and a couple million cars and you have the distraction of traffic, delays, noise, pollution, and the stress of it all. In my case, and in my family's business and particularly where those businesses were in the city, the major stress for me were the gangs-there are 150,000 gang members in Chicago-and that's stressful.
On Saipan, the absence of distractions allows for any one to take up a skill-let's call it an instrument here since that's what inspired this presentation which is now in written form-and build the skills that it takes without being interrupted by having to get in a car for a two-hour drive back to your house, or to pick up a sibling, or to visit family. That time away from distraction is why I would choose to be raised here on Saipan.
Solitude Allows You to Get Very Good at Something
A few little-known facts about geniuses include a) 75 percent of them are introverts and b) almost 100 percent of them are made, not born, geniuses. There's quite a bit of literature and research on this, and if you're interested consult the area of your library called Cognitive Psychology. What is it about the introvert that is so much like living on an island? The wherewithal to deal with solitude in a way that allows you to think deeply about what you're doing, that is to know it well enough so that you can improve it and to be comfortable with hours on your own is almost part and parcel with living on an island. Solitude is that nature here, if one so chooses to embrace it. Coupled with a passion to learn and master a skill, it is the greatest gift that living on an island provides.
Islands Breed and Attract People Who are Very Good at Things
As a result of this solitude, lack of distractions, and everyone getting a chance, there tend to be a high number of people who are very good at specific skills. Let me deal with an objection that I hear: Why don't we hear about these experts? My answer is this: Don't get confused with the norms of collectivistic societies, like this one on Saipan, and the taboo of boasting with the lack of expertise. If you do, you'll miss the boat-or perhaps find yourself getting on a plane out of frustration! There are excellent organizers here, front man and front women here who could sell you anything and do, there are exceptionally spiritual people here who minister to others and who serve ritual needs in times of people's needs that are ordained and appointed by God to do so who don't need or have the training of the seminary or a religious order. There are others who have great culinary skills and are fantastic cooks. There are other who are great with the earth and the seeds, still others who know what to do with boats and the sea. I could go on with the great educators and politicians and attorneys, engineers and physicians that are here, both Western physicians and local physicians.
Islands also attract people who are excellent at what they do. Let's stick with our Manta Ray Band story and see in it the passion of Will DeWitt, the high school band teacher who has dedicated two decades of his life to the community. He is the son of a physician who didn't take the easy road to medical school and a practice that awaited him. Instead he took the difficult road of discovering dreams, because dreams are discovered, not designated-even by well-meaning parents. He sacrificed as only he would know. As you and I both know, he hasn't made a physician's salary, nor has he lived in the neighborhoods where he was raised in the suburbs of Minneapolis. But he was appointed by God to follow the gift he was given and to share the gift where God had intended him to share it with-with the students of the public school system on Saipan. His reward for obeying God and for working hard is to be listed as the No. 2 band in the world, which happens to come from where we all live. How wonderful is that!?
When people have to live in close proximity to each other, they develop superior social skills that are sought after in the world of work, I tell my students at Northern Marianas College. As a person who has worked for a consultant and whose family is in that business, companies have been paying thousands of dollars for what they call “high context” training. In other words, how to get along with people. The reason why people who move to the states do so well and end up staying there are because of these skills that allow them to make friends and build fast and solid relationships with their supervisors, colleagues, and customers. I know this well: two of my roommates in college were from the island of Saipan.
I would decide to be raised here to develop this important skill of respecting and working with people because it is a skill that allows one to be with all people in all areas of our life.
Go Slow When Everyone Else is Going Fast
To do something well and to do it naturally and automatically requires you to go slow and to break up whatever skill you're learning. If you want to ruin something, like accomplishing a skill or the goal of graduating high school or college there is a recipe for it: Go fast. If you go fast, you will ruin it. On Saipan, we are encouraged to go slow, simply by the pace of everything around us, including the traffic. We don't have to slow down here, but sometimes we have to encourage our self to speed up-what a wonderful and strange problem to have in a world that's going too fast.
Who's going too fast? Technology has pushed things to go faster than have ever before and we respond accordingly. If our computer doesn't boot up right away, we have no problem contemplating the purchase of the newest model. If the microwave doesn't make our food in three minutes, we start to lose it.
We can go slow on Saipan, and we're encouraged to by the pace of life here. Let's revisit our example, the Manta Ray Band. Remember, it's taken 20 years of learning by the conductor and the school system and a couple generation of young teenagers to be world-renowned musicians. In short, it takes going slow at a steady speed in a clear direction with a lot of effort and total faith to master a skill. The Manta Ray Band didn't accomplish this overnight, or over a semester or even a school year. They went slow and got it right because they went slow.
Look at enduring accomplishments throughout the world to see the same “slowness” variable at work, beginning with what's available here on Saipan. Have you ever visited Tinian and Rota to see the great latte stones-those stones will last thousands of years just as they are because the architects and engineers and laborers of that era went slow to build them. How about the collective wisdom of sailing and the winds and the currents and the birds that are a part of the Carolinian culture-all that happened because people went slow and saw the nuances in the types of birds and the debris in the ocean and the alignment of the stars that taught them how to get from one point on Earth to another-no GPS for them, just slow, meticulous investigation into this seafaring skill.
Identify With A Place
Many people in modern societies move from the place they were raised to where they work, like me and many others who have left their ancestral homeland on Saipan and have moved to the cities and towns of the United States. Identity that is wound up in the love of a land because it is the place from where your people come from is a very important and sometimes rare part of the experience of people who come from very large places. Where I grew up had nothing to do with my ancestors or ethnicity or patriotism or race-it was simply based on class. I lived around other families who earned a similar income to that which my parents earned-not a whole lot below the superficial level, although I had another place that identified with even more, my place of birth and the place of my parents' birth in the country that is home to many firsts, including the idea of democracy-Greece.
If I had to choose to be raised somewhere it would be here on Saipan, a place where there is a strong connection of the land to the identity of the person. That's very important and we need to talk about this and the other things. If we get carried away with cars and clothes and cable, we can lose sight of the only things really worth knowing about, and our link to the land in a relationship that can be described as love is one of those important ideas we should embrace.
Identify With a People
Knowing who we are has everything to do with knowing who we belong to and who belongs to us. It is possible to travel so much that home really is a strange and perhaps unknown concept. We get philosophical and we say that, “Home is where I am,” or, “Home is with whom I'm loved.” All of this is good and true-these are utterances I make. But an identity with a people is an important aspect of ourselves as human beings. Whether we're Americans or Greeks or human beings or Chamorros or Carolinians or Pacific Islanders is really up to each person's heart to decide. It is fair to say, however, that the people who were raised here have no confusion about this at all. The point here is that when we are comfortable in our own shoes, so to speak, then we are comfortable with others who fit nicely in their own shoes, and we avoid the two problematic expressions of humanity that create more problems than anything else: trying to turn others into ourselves and our group and trying to be what others are. A wise saying goes like this: Be yourself, everyone else is taken. It is accompanied by this: Respect someone else, especially in their differences, but never try to turn them into you because this is a source of much of the conflict between people and peoples.
Saipan celebrates its people and that's a good thing!
Stay in school where you will meet people who are at least as interesting as your parents and grandparents are and where you can learn things that will add to what your parents and grandparents can teach you.
Dr. Dean Papadopoulos in an English instructor at the Northern Marianas College.