Evan Wineland

10419948_10202916890798395_1187231710395124119_nThis past winter break, I was fortunate enough to travel to Israel with a group called The David Project.  For ten days, I and student leaders from over a dozen other universities (including two SigEps from the Massachusetts Alpha chapter) experienced the country through trips—from our stay in a kibbutz next to the Sea of Galilea, to treks into the Old City in Jerusalem—and presentations—with presenters ranging from Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian who founded a peace organization called “Combatants for Peace”, to David Horovitz, the founding editor of The Times of Israel.  The trip was profoundly impactful, as it illustrated through its diverse itinerary just how multi-faceted the suite of issues in the state of Israel is—from the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, to soaring income inequality, to water conservation.

My interactions and friendships with the other student leaders made the trip all the more immersive: all programming during the trip was complimented by both scheduled as well as unprompted follow-up discussions.  As a group, we talked about the issues, and as we acknowledged, challenged, and built off of each other’s viewpoints, we better internalized the meaning of the trip; having those people with me, who could supplement what I knew (which sometimes was relatively little) and expose me to their own perspectives, helped me to form the best understanding possible. In short, they made the trip far more meaningful—and a lot more fun, too.

The trip to Israel reinforced what’s been my most important realization as a young adult: that the people around us can really shape our experiences, and us.  So much of what made my time in the Middle East more than just an itinerary I owe to those who were there with me.  While I played no part in choosing the collection of leaders who went on the trip, I nonetheless was fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who brought the most out of the trip and me, and I understand now more than ever just how important it is—when in life I do have the choice—to surround myself with those who will shape my experiences and me for the better.  Joining SigEp was one of the best ways I, personally, have managed to do precisely that since coming to Carnegie Mellon; it’s a community in which everyone is constantly pushing one another to do more and to be more, and I owe many of my favorite college memories and much of my own personal and professional growth to it.

Everyone has their own groups (of friends, peers, etc.) that give everything from the daily minutiae to life’s most memorable moments that extra dosage of context, of meaning. Those groups of people certainly won’t always be of our own choosing, but if there’s one thing I’d encourage, it’s this: that when you do have the choice, always surround yourself with the people who help you to be your best.