Saying Yes To Myself

by Tomas Quinonez-Riegos
July 23, 2013

Tomas Quinonez-Riegos '15 is a Starr Fellow living in Panama and working for iTeachCommunity


Growing up in the northern California valley, I must say that I was pretty well off.  Yet when I was offered a ticket to live thousands of miles away for the next four years, to see what lay beyond the first hill, I took it.  I said yes.

Since then, I have continued to be approached by people offering to take me just past the next hill. I keep on saying yes. I said yes to an invitation; I am now the effective international director of iTeach and last week met with department directors of two Panamanian universities as well as one Saudi Arabian university to finalize pilot partnerships with iTeach. I was asked to speak to several university classes about my experience in Panamá, as well as the organization. I said yes, and will be speaking to two classes later this week.

By saying yes, I have travelled far from the valley of northern California.

By saying yes, I have pushed myself beyond what I thought possible and have made bounds in self-esteem and confidence.

By saying yes, I have seen and been amazed by what these hands are capable of.

After some reflection recently, I was struck by a profound, ground-breaking, and personally revolutionary idea: If this is how far I have come by saying yes to others, how far can I go by saying yes to myself? 

Thus far, I have limited my scope of possibility to what I am told is possible by others. Well, what if I define my own scope of possibility? What if I define my own reality?  What if I recognize my own dreams not only as possible, but as a compass to guide me? To what heights can my own dreams take me?

Last semester I attended the Clinton Global Initiative University conference in St. Louis where I was struck by the words of Women for Women International founder, Zainab Salbi who told us that, “The world we live in is a product of our imagination, so might as well create the life that you imagine.”

I am going to take a moment to announce my dream: starting next summer of 2014, I will begin a bike ride for one year in southern South America and will make my way up the continent. Along the way, I will document suitable iTeach partners, and host training workshops for online resources (e.g. Khan) at schools and community centers as means of socially engaging the communities I come across. Essentially my dream is to act as a Johnny Appleseed of education, sowing the seeds of self-directed educational growth everywhere I go. This dream is an experiment to push myself to my physical and mental limits by completing the trip on bike. This dream is of climbing the mountain no one has invited me to, creating the life I imagine, of being bold, of taking risks, of recognizing the fleeting transience of life, of taking one look off the edge and plunging into the unknown.

Even more, this dream is an experiment to see exactly what one person can do, to push the limits of the possibility of impact that one year of one life can make.

Take a look at my housemates in San Miguel, Panamá, to see where this dream was born and nurtured.