Realizing a dream through alternative breaks

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Alexandra Zagbayou ‘10
Alexandra Zagbayou_small“What happens to a dream deferred?” asked Langston Hughes. A dream deferred led me, while still in high school, to settle on becoming a corporate lawyer. I was 17 years old when I informed my high school math teacher and close mentor that I was interested in pursuing a career in education. Although I was uncertain of the exact role I wanted to play, I realized from my volunteer experience that I enjoyed tutoring and mentoring students, and loved watching my peers gain confidence in their academic skills. Though my teacher agreed I was good with students, she was not enthusiastic about my decision. In her mind, I was far too bright to become an educator. She instead urged me to pursue a career with more prestige and financial reward. With that in mind, I hid my dream of becoming an educator from everyone and, most importantly, from myself—that is, until I became involved with APPLES.

After high school, I enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill with the intention of majoring in business in order to ensure a successful career. My first year was filled with math intensive prerequisite classes for the Kenan-Flagler Business School that I couldn’t bear attending; yet, I pushed through. Then, serendipitously, my resident advisor, a business major grooming me to become a candidate for Kenan-Flagler, encouraged me to apply for an APPLES alternative spring break (ASB) experience. To this day, my decision to apply remains the best and most important decision of my college career.

Alexandra zagbayou_ APPLES

As a sophomore applying for an alternative spring break, I couldn’t have imagined the impact APPLES would have on my life. My goal was simply to do something meaningful over spring break and potentially expand my circle of friends. To my surprise, participating in an alternative break changed my life. For the first time, I was forced to challenge my understanding of community service. I was asked to have honest, yet painful and difficult conversations about race, class and gender. I was encouraged to question salient assumptions I had internalized through my upbringing. I was constantly asked to question who I was, what I stood for and how I intended to use my skills to meet the needs of my community. What started as a simple spring break adventure quickly turned into an opportunity to rediscover a lost passion and to test its limits.

I returned from my civil rights alternative break to Dearborn, Mich. inspired to become a break leader. Leading the 2009 ASB civil rights break was the highlight of my collegiate career and being selected to serve as an ASB co-chair my senior year was an incredible honor. My APPLES experience single-handedly enabled me to find my own voice and agency in promoting social change, taught me how to work with communities, exposed me to the transformative and inspiring power of servant leadership and ultimately gave me the confidence to pursue a career in the field of education. With such fond memories of my APPLES journey, I am delighted to co-lead the inaugural APPLES Alumni Alternative Break in May of 2012. This experience, which APPLES hopes to be the first of many, will bring together APPLES alumni for a Memorial Day weekend service experience to a disaster stricken area of North Carolina. As director of Student U’s High School Program, I constantly look to my participation with APPLES for inspiration and guidance. From personal experience, I am aware of the dangers of deferred dreams and I hope to always apply the skills I learned from APPLES. I strive to create an APPLES-like environment that inspires and challenges the students I work with daily to make a difference in their community while also giving them the skills they need to make their dreams come true.