Founder's Day address by guest speaker

BY Dr Lisa Dondashe

The Roadtrip
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I- I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference in the world.” Robert Frost.
Honoured guests, Riebeek girls, my dearest family, staff and to the class of 2009, especially, a glorious morning to you all. Thank you so much Mrs Stear for that introduction. In case you may have missed it, my name is Lisa Dondashe, head girl of 2009. It is an incredible honour and privilege to be standing here today. I used to joke about 2019 with my friends in matric because it seemed like it was a lifetime away. I always wondered who the guest speaker would be when we returned. Lo and behold, you are all stuck with me today.
Before I start, I would like to greet a special person, someone that inspires me everyday to show up even when I do not feel like it, someone who looks at me like I am a real-life hero. My dearest niece, Sibonile. I hope you know how proud I am of you. I hope I also get some cool aunt brownie points today because this is all for you.
The day I was asked to be the guest speaker I initially agreed to do it without hesitation but then I started having doubts and the Imposter Syndrome suddenly started to set in. Quick side-note, the imposter syndrome is a group of feelings or thoughts that makes someone doubt their accomplishments with this persistent fear of feeling like you’re not good enough or you do not belong. It affects almost everyone on a daily basis, and I am here to tell you that it is fake news. Anyway, I diverge, I couldn’t understand how someone as young as I am, yes girls 27 is young, could be asked to come and give a talk about life because, well, I don’t feel like I have lived enough. Then on discussion with one of my colleagues and a few friends I realized that maybe my story would be more relatable to the Riebeek girls. I set about trying to find a topic that would be as inclusive as possible. And this is how I chose the title of my speech.
In trying to plan my class’s reunion and in discussions with those who may or may have not attended their own reunions I discovered a commonality in the reasons given. In medicine this would be group of symptoms which together would lead me to a diagnosis. This diagnosis is this- people are afraid to go to their reunions out of fear of what other people may think about them or their lives. I too am one those people. The thing about life, though, is that the older I become the more I realise that life is a journey. Earlier on I started with a quote by Robert Frost and it may have seemed irrelevant at the time, but it is actually the core of my talk today. The journey to a fuller and happier life is this- taking the road less travelled and living intentionally. With that said I’d like you to all join me on a roadtrip- the roadtrip that is my life; the roadtrip each and every one of you will embark on after high school; the roadtrip the rest of the guests here today are currently on. This may seem slightly confusing at first but I promise you will each have clarity when I conclude. Because, much like life, every successful roadtrip requires planning and consequently it is also this similarity that needs one to be prepared for possible detours, potholes and stops along the way. I am about take you through the five elements that I consider to be essential for a successful and memorable roadtrip and how I have likened each of these elements to life. These are:
• (A) destination(s)
• A map/GPS
• Mode of transport
• Passengers 
• A driver
The destination
In our economy, unless you have money to waste which I am pretty certain no one does, you cannot just get into the car and drive aimlessly without an end destination. Not only is that futile but it is also a waste of resources. It works exactly the same in life- you can’t just be moving forward without an end goal in mind. Life, too much like a roadtrip, has a series of destinations and milestones along the way; reaching a new grade, getting to matric, getting into varsity, a job, a promotion, trips overseas, starting a family and the list is endless. Earlier I mentioned living intentionally and what does that mean you may ask. It means you need to set goals for yourself and you need to have a strategy in place that gets you to those goals. My strategy is simple; I speak things into existence. I tell myself I am going to do/achieve something and I work continuously at getting to that particular destination for that goal. My becoming a medical doctor was never a mistake; it is a goal I set when I was 8 years old. At that age my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up and I apparently said I wanted to be a doctor. In grade 4 we then had to do an oral in Mrs Ossher’s class on what we wanted to be in the future and that was the first time that Kumantha Naidoo and I discussed studying medicine at the university of Cape Town- and our 9 year old reasoning was simple, we liked the mountain and we liked the sea therefore we wanted to be closer to the sea that had the mountain. That was in 2001- 18 years later we are both medical doctors that graduated from, yes you guessed it, UCT.
On this journey called life, there are also many pitstops and detours that will happen; the final destination may change along the way or you may get there to find that you still have more petrol to keep going. It may take you longer than you expected to; you may have to take a long break to refuel. If you find that any of the above happens, I pray that you keep going. I think that many of us, in matric, thought that by 25 we would have the house, partner, family, degree and the money but unfortunately life doesn’t work like that. For the longest time I was anxious about the direction that my life was headed until I learnt to celebrate the circumstances I had found myself in as, in that very moment, that was where I was meant to be. Too often we compare our journeys to those of others without any idea of how it is they have found themselves on that road. There are things that are out of our control that are going to try and veer you off the road, change your direction, delay your estimated time of arrival, but no matter what happens, not only should you keep going but you should also never compare yourself to others. Upile Chisala once said, “get into the habit of celebrating yourself from skin to marrow; you are magic.” And when you do reach one of your destinations, because not everyone arrives safely, I hope you celebrate yourself loudly. In a world where women, black women especially, are still second-guessed, I hope that you don’t end up doing the same to yourselves.
The map/GPS
Now that you have your destination you need to know how to get there. I have always said that I don’t believe in chance happenings; I believe in intentional living. This is your map or your GPS- it gives you the option of choosing the best route for your trip. This includes the planning and the research you do, the people you talk to about what is needed to reach your destination. It is never too early or too late to start. From a young age, I taught myself to see every situation as an opportunity to learn and to grow from. Getting into the degree I wanted to study, although very blessed and fortunate to have done so, was not by chance- it was because, having done research years prior to applying, I knew the kind of candidate the university would be looking for. Once again, it is never too late or too early to start; “know that you can start late, look different, be uncertain and still succeed” – unknown. The correct directions for you will take you on the road you need to travel.
The passengers
What’s a memorable roadtrip without passengers? The passengers in life are the people you take along with you on your journey to reaching your goals; you need passengers that are going to help you drive when you fatigue; that are going to encourage you along the way; you need passengers that are going to give you directions when your life’s GPS is failing you; that are going to help you refuel. These passengers should be easy to identify in your earl life but other important ones you may only meet well into the trip. Of course you won’t take all of them with you to your destination because some people are only meant to be with you for a short journey and they get off at their own stop while others are meant to ride with you all the way. You also pick up new passengers along the way and you keep it moving. What I loved the most about my class was how supportive we were of each other and how we took care of each other. I remember how Abongile’s Njiyela’s phone rang in her blazer pocket in Matric in Dr Boucher’s class and how the entire class suddenly started coughing to mask the sound of the noise and the vibration so her phone would not get confiscated; my girl was also fast asleep so she didn’t even hear our coughing and eventually Dr Boucher heard and the phone was taken away but we really did try. Abongile was also the same person who introduced me to the people I call best friends now when we were at medical school and the same person who made sure I ate during exams because I picked up a bad habit of forgetting to eat when I am stressed.
These passengers also come in the form of friends that you keep- lifelong friends are what we made in high school; Kaylin Human’s inside blazer pocket was probably my favourite thing about high school because it contained every type of sweet the tuckshop had to offer. Kaylin used to feed me everyday, even when she swore it would be the last time she gave me food. I still don’t understand how Mrs Bean missed us eating smarties right under her nose; after all we did sit in the front row. Kaylin still feeds me every time she’s in town for a weekend and she still calls regularly to remind me who I am. I also think the general consensus about high school here is that if you are the friend that forgets to eat, find friends that feed you.
Ra-eesa Wicomb and I have been friends since grade R at College Hill. She also inspired me to pursue my dream of getting a Masters degree after she obtained hers in 2017. Once I started it though I became increasingly overwhelmed because not only was I one of the youngest people there but again this feeling of “you don’t belong here” overcame me. One of my friends and old classmates, Vuyolwethu Gxotiwe texted me something which changed my perspective on how I view myself- she said, “you always knew exactly what you wanted to do, let the universe know and did just that. That is something I wish to learn from you” and simply by those words she had encouraged me to keep going again. I don’t think she realized what those words meant to me. We also don’t realise the impact we have on others. Maybe what I have said today might inspire you to either find friends who stash sweets in the blazers or to do a Masters degree- the opportunities are endless.
These passengers exist in the form of your family because if they aren’t helping you get to your destination then who is. A supportive family is undoubtedly the most important thing in the world. Those who know me will know how much my mother means to me. If my mother says I can achieve something then I believe in myself even more. In grade 2 I lost a spelling competition because I could not spell the word uncle and that devastated me; my mom told me that the following year the spelling trophy would be mine. I did in fact win it the following year and I must say my spelling is still e-x-c-e-l-l-e-n-t, excellent. My family has travelled everywhere for and with me to show their support; they’re even here today and that always gives me the strength to continue driving towards my goals. None of the goals I have ever set for myself have ever been too silly or too big for my family; for them it has always been a matter of asking “how do we help you get there?” I mean just last night my mother was helping me with name tags because she is still the headgirl’s mother 10 years later.
Be thankful, also, for the teachers we have here at Riebeek. They have groomed some of the best in the country. Their beliefs in our talents, skills and abilities is remarkable. I sometimes think teachers believe in us more than we believe in ourselves. In Grade 12 I was too lazy and afraid of entering the English Olympiad, because there goes that feeling again, ‘I felt like I would not do well enough” so Mrs Peltason entered on my behalf. I still did not want to write but we came to an agreement; I would at least attend the practice sessions and we could decide nearer to the Olympiad day if I would go through with it. I ended up writing and came 7th in the country. Imagine if she had actually given up on me. Mrs P clearly saw something in me that I couldn’t see myself. There are so many teachers that have touched each one of us tremendously. Mrs Woods taught us to be assertive but to always be kind; Mr Hoare taught us that tackling difficult situations requires you to “start at the very beginning; because that’s a very good place to start”; Mrs Gerber encouraged us all to join drama and unlocked leadership potential in all of us; Mrs Stevens’ brilliance motivated us to aim higher; Mr Jonas encouraged the development of problem solving skills through his famous statement which he would say when you forgot your homework and it went something like this, “my dear, don’t make your problems my problems; now sit down please”.
And then as you grow older too, you select your passengers in the form of mentors. I have found that not only is it useful to have mentors in the career you have chosen but to also have those outside of. This has helps create a network of people who are wiser, reliable, efficient and who are further along on their own journeys but are still willing to assist with directions. My consultant, boss, role model and mentor is the kindest most compassionate man and medical doctor I know. When community service was drowning me last year, he encouraged me to take a break and to try again when I had the strength to continue; he encouraged me to pursue my current position. He has also taken a genuine interest in each of the exams and courses that each of us are doing. And every morning we start the day off by finding out how each person in the unit is coping. In a world where parking your metaphorical car on the side of the road and resting is seen as a sign of weakness, my boss encouraged me to pause, reset and to start again. He also taught me the true meaning of what happens to be my favourite human quality, kindness; a quality that I actively try to improve on daily. And as you go out into the world you will find that no one else will prioritise your mental health for you, you have to do that on your own. But that one act of kindness could not only save someone’s day but it could also save their life. There is a quote by Mandy Hale that says, “be good to people; you will be remembered more for your kindness than any level of success you could possibly attain.” And I firmly stand by that- the kindness you put out into the world, the universe will reciprocate that ten-fold. I hope your passengers treat you with kindness and you the same to them.
The transport
For those who have been on roadtrips know the pre-trip full inspection to ensure that the transport carrying us to our destination is roadworthy. You need to check the tyres, the oil and water, ensure there is enough fuel and even if your car is brand new it is something that is done by almost everyone. Your journey to your goal destination is the same- you need to check your transport; in life this works in two ways- the first one is the actual physical work that goes into obtaining your dreams. This ranges from studying, to internships, to short courses, moving to different cities and countries, reducing or changing habits that do not support the life you’re trying to create. At its core, it involves making sacrifices. The other aspect of this transportation involves the spiritual realm or a higher power- whatever that may be for you. There is also a variation in how people approach this. It could be in the form of praying, fasting, meditating, singing praise and worship, taking a vow of silence, a special ritual, lucky item of clothing, whatever works for you. Let your spirituality meet your hard work and let magic happen. My form of transportation has always been this: I have never done a written or oral exam, interview or speech without talking to and praying with my mother. I could know the entire textbook cover to cover and my preparation would still be inadequate if I haven’t spoken to my mother. My final exam in final year of medical school was a paediatrics clinical examination (you had to examine a baby for a set number of minutes and then a specialist consultant would ask you for your diagnosis and question you further on what you found and how you proved that this is the right diagnosis- nerve- wrecking stuff). I had been suffering from severe headaches that made it difficult for me to study for the last two years of med school and before this particular exam they had become more frequent. Still, I was confident in my knowledge because despite the adversity I had put in sufficient work. As the time to go to the hospital for the exam approached my mother, who was busy when I initially called, still had not returned my call. I started to panic. My poor mom was stuck in town and was struggling to find a quiet place to call me so we could pray. But who are mothers if not god’s gift to humanity; she went into a dingy corner and called me so we could pray and off I went to do my exam. And I am certain you know how the rest goes because here I am today.
The driver
For any roadtrip one needs to have a driver; in this case that driver is you- each and every one of you. Excluding factors beyond your control, you determine the road you will travel and whether you will reach your destination or not. The preparation that goes into having a successful roadtrip is purposeless if the driver is not prepared for the journey at hand. As with any long distance travel, you will fatigue, get lost, you will doubt if you’re making any progress, you will need rest and recover but you cannot turn back. As the driver of your life, understand that you are an everchanging multifaceted being; the dreams you may have had at age 13 may be different to those you have at 18 and even further from those you’ll have at 28 and the older you get. You must be willing to accept that change. There is one quote that I have lived my life by since the first time I read it and each time I feel like I am no longer the one who is driving my life I go back to it and I pause, reset and restart my expedition. The quote is by F. Scott Fitzgerald and it goes, “for what it’s worth, it’s never too late or in my case too early to be whoever you want to be. There is no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things that you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life that you’re proud of, and if you are not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” The world will try to put you in a box, to contain you so that they can limit your greatness. Don’t ever let them. You must be steady in pursuing your dreams and even when you or others doubt you. Your passengers can assist you as much as they humanly can but as the owner of the car the onus is on you to reach your destination.
I hope you also do not limit yourself, as the driver, to only one destination. The notion of not being able to have it all is untrue; please note that you can actually be a well-rounded woman who excels in all aspects of her life. Being at Riebeek College taught me a great deal about seeking to be an all-rounder in life, about how to carry oneself, how to see women in leadership roles as the norm and it helped me understand that this is in fact a woman’s world. Beyonce once said, “we need to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves. We have to step up as women and take the lead.” I urge you all today to resume the driver position of your cars and to take the lead.
I hope that the next time I see some of these faces again, we all will have stories to exchange of we have lived some more and that our lives will be filled with intention. There is still so much more to do, see, dream and achieve. I still want to run a marathon before I turn 30 which is right around the corner and I am so incredibly unfit; I want to raise more awareness on mental health and gender-based violence, go and do my PhD overseas, come back and be a policy maker in the country, spend a summer in New York, an spring in Japan, and specialize in psychiatry one day. I want to be a world changer and I see world changers in this very room today.
I am so honoured to have been given the opportunity to be here today. I feel immense pride because I come from a school that is rich in tradition but still strives for change. I hope my short stint at life after high school has given everyone something to think about. I hope that when you choose the road you have to travel, you don’t merely follow the one that everyone is taking. May you indeed choose the one less travelled even it frightens you to do so. And because “life is not about who you once were but rather about who you are or have the potential to be”, should you find that you are not on the right road, I hope you always have the courage to start over.
To the class of 2009, I am so proud of the women you have all grown into. You are all ambitious and driven but most importantly, you have all always remained true to yourselves. To the Riebeek learners, I wish you all of the best in all your endeavours.
Thank you.

 May 05, 2019
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