Rotary Club of La Quinta

Service above self since 1985

          

Angela Meyer O'Connor

 
Angela was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in 1989-90 during her junior year at Scripps College in Claremont. She has spoken to our club twice in the last few years when she has come out to visit her parents in 29 Palms. The following speech was given during her recent induction in the 29 Palms High School Hall of Fame. She is a pretty terrific young lady. Thanks to Rey Neufeld for making this available.
 
Thank you. It is an honor to be here today. I want start by thanking you all for being here today. Several of my teachers are here today including Mr. Lockwood my math teacher, Mr. Cole, my principle, Mr. Bond my PE teacher, Mrs. Fabricus, my 6th grade teacher, and Mrs. Meyer, my Spanish teacher and my mom. I also see many close friends and family including my Aunt Ada, also a TPHS alum, and Uncle Jim who have traveled far to be here today. I am grateful for the opportunity to say thank you to each of you for your personal investment in my life. This honor today is very much a tapestry of your contributions throughout the years.

I would like to begin today by taking you through a series of memories along my journey after growing up in 29 Palms and I'll finish with a few short reflections of what I have learned along the way.

Twentynine Palms- Its 1987, my senior year at TPHS. Its 5th period, Mr. Lockwood's Calculus II class. Test day. I face a sheet of equations. When I look down the numbers blur together on the page and I struggle on where to even begin. I start to sweat. What if I can't do this? Maybe girls really aren't good at math after all. Could it be true? What if I fail this test! What if I'm not smart enough? What am I going to do in my life? (Everyone keeps asking me that. ) What if I never get a job? What if I never get married? Have children? I look up, five minutes had passed. Well, the only thing left to do is start somewhere, and slowly it all comes back to me, the math, the confidence, the sense of future.

Spain- Its 1990, I am in Madrid, Spain, in an outdoor café in a beautiful plaza, surrounded by ornate buildings and swarms of people moving in every direction. It is Spring Break in my junior year of college. I am studying abroad in England and this week traveling in Spain, alone. I love college; I love life in Bristol, England. But at the moment I am drinking strong Spanish coffee, and contemplating whether I have taken on too much this time. It turns out my Spanish isn't great (Mom would kill me if she knew). There's a bus strike, I can't get out of town and Madrid is too expensive to stay for a week. My trip is doomed. Maybe I should just pack it up and head back to England? A group of student travelers sit at the table next to me, they pull out guide books, they want to go to Salamanca. I want to go to Salamanca. A Spanish woman overhears their discussion and tells them about a private bus that is running despite the bus strike. They decide to give it a go. Here's my chance. I build up the nerve, and ask, "Are you going to Salamanca? Can I travel with you?" "Sure! We all just met this morning in the hostel. Come along with us." For a week we travel together through Salamanca, Saville, and Malaga. The trip is full of stunning architecture, culture, food and new friends. As I peeled off from the group after a week to head home, I couldn't believe it had come and gone so quickly. My world seems to have doubled. Why was I so worried?

Sri Lanka - It's 1993. I am serving in the Peace Corps in a small Sri Lankan village. I am sitting in my mud house teaching English to 10 high school students. It is Thanksgiving in America today. It is NOT Thanksgiving in Sri Lanka. It is hot, and the air is full of flies trying to escape the humidity of the jungle. I am sore from hauling drinking water from the well in the valley. I am homesick for my family and friends. But now it is English class. Today's subject: brothers and sisters. "My brother is in the army." "My sister is a maid in Dubai." My brother died in the war." My sister disappeared." "My brother goes to college. He speaks English." I am humbled. I am reminded how hard these students are working to learn English. English is their life line, it is their best hope of escaping the reality of a civil war that kills and tears apart families. I decide we need to a break. " Its just too hot today to sit here. Let's take a hike to Kaegalla Rock. Its cooler up there." Everyone is thrilled. Along the way the boys flirt with the girls, the girls tease the boys, we laugh and tell stories in a mix of English and Sinhala. I love these moments when we are just people enjoying life. We are not poor or rich or dark or light but just people with the same love of life and the same core challenges. I burn the memory of Thanksgiving 1993 into my mind as one of my best.

Siberia- It is 1995, Novosibirsk Siberia. I am working for a development organization out of Washington DC. Today I am on assignment in Siberia. Our mission is to match American business leaders with young Russian companies to solve business problems. It is freezing! It is 40 below and my lungs literally freeze the minute I walk outside and breathe the cold air. We are meeting with a client, a local ginseng tea manufacturing for an update on how his company is doing. His profits have quadrupled this year and his staff has doubled after he invested in new drying equipment. He was able to make the investment because of a loan from a new private bank in the area which lent him funds at half the interest rate of a private investor. I learn that banks matter a great deal for local business growth. I want to learn more about banks and economic development.

New York City. It is September 11, 2001 8:30 am. I am running late for work. I watch in horror on TV to see two gaping holes in the Twin Towers, the billows of smoke rising into the air. My stomach drops as I watch the first tower collapse and then the second tower collapse. Lower Manhattan is engulfed in smoke and ash. The Federal Reserve sits in the shadow of the twin towers. I try calling the Fed. No answer. I call for hours not knowing what to do. My phone rings. It is the Chief Operating Officer at Goldman Sachs. "Angela, I can't reach anyone at the Fed. Is the New York Fed operating?" "Frankly, I don't know Mel, but the Fed's cash and security settlement systems should be operating on back-up regardless." "Angela, we are experiencing some significant dollar settlement problems for our foreign exchange trades. We don't know which firms are operating and which are not able to process payments. This is getting serious' "OK Mel, I'll reach out to the Operations Managers group and see if we can figure this out. My job at the moment is to coordinate a group of leaders at the 24 largest banks to resolve trade settlement issues related to foreign exchange trades. I send out an email to the group. Emergency conference call 2pm! 10 banks dial in and then hour by hour more dial in from back-up sites around the world. Some bank's have had staff and systems wiped out, others are unaffected. We work through the night to keep cash settlement flowing so that markets can keep trading and global finances moving despite the disaster. This goes on for weeks until things are back to normal. I am so grateful to be alive and able to help in a meaningful way.

Hoboken, New Jersey. It is 2007, I am sitting in a hospital bed looking down at teeny tiny baby Hannah. I reflect on all that has proceeded her: the birth of her brother David; our wedding celebrated by friends from around the world gathered in 29 Palms; the untimely loss of my dad, Dave; his essence of fun and charisma; the long eventful life of grandmother Ada; a childhood filled with the security of a tight extended family and the freedom to explore the desert on my own; and my husband Derek's childhood of wandering the bogs of a small village in Ireland. The circle of life has led to this child and her brother. They will carry all of this love and learning and life forward. Looking back, the timing of the events of my life seem to have fit perfectly in place. I remember wondering if I would ever find the love of my life or hold my own babies in my arms. Now that it is here I feel ready for it with no regrets. Ready to establish a loving home with confident and secure kids ready for their own future of adventure.

Washington, DC. It is 2009. I am attending the Federal Open Market Committee (the FOMC) meeting for the first time. The FOMC is a group of economist and Federal Reserve leaders who meet every 6 weeks to make decisions about U.S. monetary policy. The President of the New York Fed is a permanent voting member of the FOMC. I am his guest today. I am sitting directly across from Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and flanked by America's leading minds in macro economics. I am here today to hear the FOMC's views on one of the programs I oversee. In the heat of the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve announced plans to purchase $1.25 trillion dollars in mortgages guaranteed by US agencies in order to support housing markets and market functioning. I answer the FOMC's questions about how we measure the program's effect and how we go about buying $20 billion in MBS each week. Their questions are piercing and tough. The dialog is fascinating. It has been a challenging year in the global economy. We have had to innovate like never before to steer the economy through the most challenging financial meltdown since the Great Depression. The risks we have taken appear to be paying off. It's a good feeling to make a difference each day.

Twentynine Palms. Its 2010. It is good to be back in the desert that I love; and be here with you today to share my adult journey that started from this very place.

Let me leave you with three principles that have guided me over the past 40 years. I hope you may find them useful in your own journey.  Keep moving forward  Set the course  If you are going to do something, really GO for it.

Keep moving forward. Do not stand still. Life brings touch choices, like what do I do after I graduate? It may seem easier to play it safe and stick with what is most familiar. Rest assured, you will go nowhere if you are standing still. Get out of your safety zone. See the world, try new things, get inspired by new places and people. It is unlikely to hurt and will definitely change up your future.

Set the course. Take charge of where you are headed. It is easy to see your life as a series of unfortunate events. All humans, rich or poor, spectacular or plain, gregarious or reserved will experience seasons of pain, sorrow, setback and challenge. Do not let these seasons define you. See them as opportunities to grow and empathize with others, but move past them. You cannot control the cards you have been dealt but you certainly can control the game you play with them. If you don't like where life has taken you, do something about it. Take charge. Set your own course.

If you are going to do something, really GO for it. Make it meaningful. Do what you love and love what you do. The hardest of tasks is manageable if it means something to you. Think about what activities give you energy. Think about how you can develop a passion into a career. Or, "bloom where you are planted" as the saying goes. If you are given a role that doesn't particularly inspire you, reflect on how that role facilitates something that is meaningful to you. It is impossible to succeed if your heart is not in it. Make it count.

I want to thank you for your attention. I also want to thank the Hall of Fame Committee for the honor of being inducted today.

Postscript by Angela's mother, Elizabeth Meyer, on 5/4/10:

This last Friday Angela was inducted into the Twentynine Palms High School Hall of Fame. She is presently the Vice President of the Markets Group of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. I have had many requests for a copy of her speech, and there are many of you who, although unable to be here, would nevertheless be interested in what she had to say. To those of you who were in attendance, it was wonderful to have you there! Liz

 
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