Dita Cavdarbasha, Class 12
Trinity School Class ‘15 | Haverford College ‘19
On June 20th, the Next Generation Board of the TEAK Fellowship hosted its 6th Annual Midsummer Night event at PHD at the Dream Downtown. Dita Cavdarbasha, a TEAK alumna, shared her experience on the TEAK journey.
Hello TEAK staff, alumni, and supporters. My name is Dita Cavdarbasha, and I am a Class 12 Alumni.
I’ve had quite a bit of trouble trying to decide what I should say to you tonight; I was told to simply talk about TEAK, about its impact on my life. Though honestly, there is nothing simple about it. Imagining impact, visualizing it, requires a separation of sorts. A visualization of some kind of before and after—of not only what there once was—the before—and what there is now—the after—but what could have been without it—the unimaginable. There is a physicality to the word—impact—it infers that a change has occurred, a transformation. I imagine my TEAK acceptance as a moment of impact. Two forces—my life as a 13 year old Albanian-Kosovar refugee from the Bronx going to a school with a C+ rating from the DOE—and this magical program we are all here celebrating, the TEAK Fellowship, coming into contact with one another. Imagine it like a slow motion video of a dart popping a water balloon, actually. At the millisecond when the dart hits the balloon—blue, in my head—the water seems to stand still, holding the shape of the thing that held it. And then it falls, drop by bigger drop, the liquid onto the ground, into every direction, as the plasticity of the balloon, its material restriction, shrivels back into itself. That is how I imagine TEAK entering my life, entering the lives of every student it admits, disrupting the molds we have been born into, breaking us free from the restrictions placed upon our potential— restrictions our parents and communities have devoted their lives to destroying.
The key to this destruction is not simply just Latin classes in the summer, or after school English classes or SAT prep in the Winter—it is the access to opportunity that TEAK provides every student it admits.
As an immigrant, I think often of opportunity—of potential and limitations. I was born in a small country called Kosovo, in a city called Peje. I lived in a house with hydrangeas blooming at the door and a war raging on in the mountains. Like many other immigrants, my parents saw America as synonymous with opportunity— a place where their two daughters, through education, could become anything they wanted to be, free of the restrictions that suffocated the both of them as Albanians living under Serbian rule in Kosovo. And so they came here, with false papers and two toddlers in tow. It was luck that allowed us access to this country, luck that followed my dad on the train home from work one day, where he came across a flyer for the TEAK Fellowship. He showed my mother, who then accompanied me to an information session about the program. I still remember that day, that long train ride from last stop of the D train in the Bronx to the TEAK Office in Chelsea. I remember being excited simply because I saw my mother was excited. I see now that what my mother saw that day was the promise of opportunity—a chance for her sacrifices to transform themselves into something beyond her imagination. TEAK smoothed away America’s harshness; and I, along with my parent’s sacrifices, sought refuge in that glass classroom, full of teachers I called by their first name and classes that challenged me to think beyond what I assumed were my capabilities.
What my mother saw that day, and what my upbringing at TEAK is a testament of, is a support system that is unrelenting in its devotion, in its persistence that every student that walks through its doors will have all the materials they need to discover their full academic and personal potential.
It is nothing short of magic, this little program that raised me. And its magic, I think, is often measured in the types of schools TEAK Fellows attend, our median SAT scores, and the leadership roles we acquire as we move through the world. And although all of that is wonderful and worthy of praise, the true magic of TEAK, I believe, exists on the walks to the train with other TEAK Fellows after Fellows Forum. It comes from phone calls I had with my advisor every week during the scariest time in my life—freshman year of high school—and it comes eight years later when I found myself on the other side of the world in a hospital room during another scary time in my life, emailing TEAK—knowing that even if all goes wrong in the world, TEAK will still be there, ready to talk to you. The heart of its magic, I mean to say, is in its consistency of support— in the way staff members and fellows themselves constantly reimagine what support means or what form it takes.
It is it precisely this combination of access, opportunity, and support that takes all the water that was once held by that small blue balloon and propels all of the droplets outward—into transformation and forces them to reimagine themselves. Droplets that then go on to water seeds otherwise left ignored—ideas and realities that were always possible, but unimaginable without that moment of impact. Us TEAK Fellows have gardens awaiting us-and I thank every one of you—staff, fellows and friends—from the bottom of my heart, for supporting that growth.