Empathy makes you stronger

Sammy Landon School ethics speech

The following blog is a transcript of the "This I Believe" speech that Sammy '21 delivered to his Middle School teachers and peers. Every eighth grader gives a "This I Believe" speech about a belief or experience that impacts the way he leads his daily life. In his speech, Sammy (pictured above with his father and sister in Morocco) shares why his family's diverse cultural and religious background helps him empathize with others.

At the age of 3 months, I made my first trip across the Atlantic to Morocco. This seven-hour flight is one I would take several times a year going forward. My first trip to New Jersey, I am told, took longer than the flight overseas. Apparently, this is also when my family found out I was not a good traveler.

These trips to Morocco and New Jersey keep me connected with my culture, my mixed heritage and my hodgepodge family. Depending on what house or what country, there will be differences, but I always try to see the commonalities.

I was born in Washington, D.C., to a Moroccan immigrant father and a New Jersey Jewish mother. This combination takes many people by surprise — they ask, "How does that work?" My sister sometimes gets offended, but I don't. How it works is because my family makes it work. We eat latkes and couscous. At the Passover Seder table we ask the four questions, and during Ramadan we break the fast with my father. To keep the peace, we have learned what to talk about and what not to talk about. But one thing I learned is always to talk! The importance of speaking up for myself and speaking up for others cannot be understated.

I've always been proud of being both American and Moroccan. With family scattered on each coast of the Atlantic, I spend my summers and most school breaks in Morocco. I spend most of my long weekends in New Jersey, and I speak to my grandpa on the telephone every day. I am as comfortable overseas as I am in Virginia. Even so, it's not always easy. When I'm with my father's family, I am the "American" who smiles and nods a lot. When I visit New Jersey, it's really a whole other world. Sometimes more foreign than Morocco. Everything is loud and fast. I love my Jersey cousins and my grandparents, but it's clear that I'm not from Jersey. A lot of my families' views are different — but that's OK.

I am a dual citizen. Things are different overseas. I have been exposed to the world through a broader global perspective and, because of both sides of my family, I'm able to empathize. I can empathize because of my father. He came to America in the '80s on his own — he left a good life in Casablanca and his seven brothers and sisters. I can empathize because of my mother. She grew up in a completely different world than my father and is now an immigration lawyer.

My ability to empathize is the reason I joined a crowd of people at Dulles welcoming people to the U.S. [after the recent immigration ban]. Some people had been detained for hours after landing in the U.S. They were the lucky ones because there were other people waiting for relatives who were not allowed to get on the planes to come back to their families. This issue is important to me because of who I am and where I come from.

Many are surprised by how well-adjusted my Moroccan-American, Muslim, Jewish family is. Some find us different, but to me it's just my family. Never forgetting where you come from and being accepting of those who come from other places makes you stronger. This I believe!