A Vision of Giving

I'll admit that sometimes my beliefs are questioned, but when I meet people like Mark and Ismini Svensson, I gain a little more faith in the magic of everyday life.
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"Always remember that striving and struggle precede success, even in the dictionary." -Sarah Ban Breathnach

Call me an optimist, but I have always believed that if you put good into the world, you'll get good out. I believe in everday miracles and the ability to overcome whatever life may throw your way. I'll admit that sometimes these beliefs are questioned, but when I meet people like Mark and Ismini Svensson, I gain a little more faith in the magic of everyday life.

When people think of heroes, the most common to cross their mind are Superman and Batman, but I like to think of people like Mark and Ismini. They seem like an everyday couple, married with a baby on the way, but in reality, they represent everything we've come to admire as a nation. They've both made the best out of the hand they were dealt and the continue to strive for that so longed-for American Dream.

Mark grew up as one of seven children. After his parents' divorce, he and his siblings were raised by his father and grandfather until his father decided to remarry. Throughout his life, Mark saw education as an opportunity to better his life. After high school, with little financial options, he enrolled in a local community college in order to save his family money.

Mark excelled in the honors program and was eventually chosen from more than 1,500 nominees by the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society for the elite 20-member USA Today's All USA Community College Academic Team. His hard work led him to Washington, D.C. where he became the first member of his family to attend a tier-1 university: Georgetown. Here, he would study government and graduate with honors. He would also meet his dear friend and future wife, Ismini.

Some might call it coincedence, or maybe even luck, but being an optimist, I have to believe it's fate that Mark and Ismini were both invited to a luncheon with the the dean that day. Ismini has a just as beautiful and inspiring history as Mark. Raised in Athens, Greece, Ismini was diagnosed with severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis that doctors expected to leave her permanently disabled before adulthood. Ismini never lost hope and, through hard work and rigorous exercise, she would go on to receive numerous honors for ballet before the age of 16, some coming from the Royal Academy of Dance in London.

Her father, an economist and engineer who passed away when she was a freshmen, and her mother, an archaeologist and author, valued education above all else. Through hardwork, she was given the opportunity to pursue her BA/MA in engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, the most prestigious univeristy in Greece. Due to the financial crisis in Greece, she left to search for opportunities in countries that provide youth with the chance for a bright future. She found what she was looking for when she came to the U.S. in 2008, where she joined the Obama campaign and had the chance to meet great politicians such as vice president Biden, former president Clinton, and President Obama at the White House.

After graduation, Mark and Ismini had a small wedding -- it was just the two of them, as they set out to begin their lives together. They started their organization, StayUNITED, this year. Their first initiative, 50 Acts of Giving Back, has them traveling to all 50 states promoting causes such as homelessness and illiteracy. Their platform allows people to submit their causes in order to help shape what they'll do next.

It's the everyday heroes, like Mark and Ismini, who inspire me to make a change in my community. I'm the oldest of 10 children and, earlier this year, I became so severly sick that I was forced to take on homeschooling. There have been moments where my dreams seem so far out of reach because of the situation I have found myself in. It's the Marks and Isminis of this world that keep me going. Some might think that it's crazy to up and travel across the country with only the hope of helping others, but wasn't it Steve Jobs who said "Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do"? And he should know better than anyone. I think there's a little bit of that crazy in all of us. Mark and Ismini have certainly found it in themselves and they inspire me to find it in me.

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