Congratulations to the Livingston Fellows Class of 2015

By Gary Steuer

At the Bonfils-Stanton Annual Awards Celebration on May 7th, 2015, we welcomed the following new Fellows to the Livingston Fellowship Program: Cristina Aguilar, Rachel Basye, Thomas “Malik” Robinson, Teva Sienicki and Stephanie Villafuerte.

At the event, Senior Fellow Heather Lafferty (Class of 2013, pictured at the podium) reflected on her experience. We think it provides a wonderful, personal perspective on the Fellowship experience and values. And we are posting her speech here for all to enjoy. Thank you, Heather!

Thank you, Gary, for inviting me to share a few words on behalf of the 2013 cohort. Please allow me like to acknowledge my fellow fellows from this class – Bill Fulton, P.J. D’Amico, Sean VanBerschot and Olivia Mendoza who couldn’t join us today as she is receiving an Unsung Heroine award, which is very appropriate.

It has been such a privilege to be in this particular cohort for many reasons — one being that we were the last class selected by Dorothy and the first to welcome Gary. We feel lucky to have the combination of their support and wisdom, along with Jesse’s of course, as we jumped into this experience and navigated the journey. Thank you all!

Two years ago on May 9th 2013, our cohort took our group photo together out in the lobby of the Four Seasons. We laughed about how we might be the tallest class in Livingston Fellowship history, with Olivia being our token short person. We had spent that morning in the Bonfils Stanton board room, high up in the clock tower. As we introduced ourselves, we found our first point of commonality. We all had mixed feelings of unworthiness for this unique privilege and giddiness in having been selected. Could WE really represent the best in our community? Euphoric and scary at the same time!!

That honest and humble conversation set the tone for the next two years and how we would build a foundation from which we would challenge, inspire, and embrace one another. Most importantly, it gave us the permission to be that sharp finger poke in the middle of the back when we needed that persistent nudge to keep moving forward.

Two years later, we have been through so much that was unimaginable when we first joked and laughed together. The opportunities and challenges of life didn’t stop when we became Livingston Fellows in 2013, even though on that day when we stood side by side with our beautiful prisms, we felt pretty invincible as the selected ones. Since then, we have all experienced moments that have brought us to our knees and equally, moments we want to last forever.

  • We have held 10 different jobs collectively;
  • we experienced divorce, lost a revered father and welcomed a new baby to the family;
  • we supported a spouse dealing with a brain tumor, held our parents hands as they face getting old, and hugged tightly a child facing hearing loss and another with anxiety;
  • we worked side by side with minority business owners, high school students, diverse civic leaders, former United States Presidents and passionate community activists;
  • and we have experienced changes in our community and country that bring up deep feelings about race, equality and poverty which challenge our perspective on how we can truly make a difference.

During this time, we all remained determined to answer Dorothy’s initial question to us, “If it weren’t for the Livingston Fellowship …”

We set bold plans at our mini-retreat and while I am not sure any of us has actually done exactly what we said two years ago, we HAVE …

  • traveled to Kenya, Namibia, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, Canada, Uganda, Rwanda, and Mexico;
  • we meditated on a mountain top at sunrise and walked barefoot along a stone labyrinth;
  • we took ballroom dancing lessons and Spanish classes;
  • we baked every kind of pie imaginable on a cross-country trek;
  • we took the first scary step of fulfilling our dream to become an attorney;
  • we learned about hip-hop at a camp for multi-racial families, and
  • we drank lethal margaritas at Tacos Jalisco on 38th Avenue in northwest Denver.

To be clear, I said “we” with all of these not because we each literally did them all (except for the margaritas), but because we lived these experiences through one another. Sean’s experience of witnessing racism in the most raw and stomach-churning way in Namibia — haunts all of us. P.J.’s time on an eco-justice farm in Kenya — reminds all of us how profoundly connected humanity is. When Olivia kicked ass on the LSATs – we all felt the accomplishment and possibility of what is now ahead. When Bill sat in silence on a mountaintop in Guatemala, we felt his serenity and authenticity. We have come a long way since that first day we spent together in 2013.

The Livingston Fellowship made us feel appreciated, confident, privileged. It has given us space to expand our own awareness of the challenges our world faces in achieving true equality and global prosperity. It has inspired us to stretch, imagine, create, hope and find comfort with vulnerability. We are now more grounded in our convictions and clear about our values. It has forced us to own the fact that we are LEADERS, and to reflect on how we can actually become the leaders we aspire to be.

Most importantly, if it weren’t for the Livingston Fellowship, we wouldn’t have a cohort, a fellowship of friends and colleagues who make us better, stronger, more human leaders every day. We have come to rely on one another –in fact, we now have a rule that once a spouse knows about big news – the next stop is our group. Because of the Livingston Fellowship, we have each other’s backs through the good stuff and the tough stuff. That feels really special.

To the members of the 2015 class – welcome! This is the beginning of a life-changing experience. We hope that you feel invincible today and that the next two years is just the beginning of a transformational journey filled with new friendships, global adventures and moments that allow you to become the leader our community needs you to be.

Now if you will join me in raising a glass to the 2015 class, and to all those who make this possible –Thank you to the Bonfils Stanton Foundation, John and Pat Livingston, all the senior fellows, and especially my cohort comrades – cheers!