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Future Leaders: TM’s Role in the Life of a Gates Foundation Millennium Scholar

One of the first David Lynch Foundation Quiet Time participants in Los Angeles, Marilu, 17 years old, graduated last week from Semillas Community Schools. She learned TM at her school as a freshman. On May 15th, 2015, she was awarded a Gates Foundation Millennium Scholarship. Marilu talked with Jesse Thompson, the Assistant Director of the DLF in L.A., about her plans for college, her busy life as a high school student, and how she feels Transcendental Meditation (TM) has added to her success.

Jesse Thompson (J): So you’re getting ready to graduate! Congratulations, by the way, on the Gates award. I’m wondering what your reaction was when you first found out about that.

Marilu (M): I actually found out when I was at UC-Berkeley. My mom sent me a picture of the award, and I just started crying. I couldn’t believe it. I was at the campus looking at the Bell Tower and I was like, “Oh my gosh, did this really happen to me?” I was really emotional.

J: I can only imagine. That sounds like a pretty cinematic moment.

M:  I also I decided then to go to Berkeley in the Fall. My mom told me that she was very proud of all my hard work, because I do a lot of things at school. Since 9th grade I was really involved in Student Council, Model UN, Medical Club and Generation Green, College Club – practically all the clubs on campus. You see how it’s all worth it in the end. When I got that award, it had an impact not only on me but also on my family and my community. It shows them that they can also do it. It motivates them too, and they’re my motivation. It’s really easy for students in my community to get sidetracked and follow the wrong path. It’s easy to come to things like drugs, gangs, and violence, but you don’t do that when you have your “why.” My why is my family, the community, my school, my classmates. I’m the first in my family to go to college, and I’m happy that I’m starting that culture for my sister. She’s in the 9th grade, and she’s really motivated now. She wants to be a doctor.

J: Yeah it has a ripple effect, right? So to go back to the award for a little additional context, what was that process like?

M: It was a really long process. You have to identify recommenders and nominators and make sure your academics are good and that you’re involved in a lot of clubs and activities. It was a little stressful, and that’s where TM comes in. I wanted to make sure that the story in my essays were true and really reflected me and where I come from. TM helped me because I was able to relax. Sometimes I was overthinking it, and I just meditated and gained clarity. That’s what I like about TM. Every time I find myself not understanding something or overthinking it or getting too stressed out, I just stop what I’m doing and take a break with TM. When I start back I have a fresh mind and I already know what I want to do.

J: That’s great, I definitely know that feeling. How long have you been meditating now?

M: Four years. I was one of the first people who started meditating with Lynn Kaplan. I was very fortunate to have her as my teacher. When I found out that the TM program was being offered here, I told my mom, “Please, please sign me up for this.” We really didn’t know what to expect, but we knew that it was a good opportunity.

J: How was that taken by your family? Were they wary at all?

M: My mom was really open-minded. She sees that I take on a lot of tasks and have a lot of things to do, so she said, “This will be a great tool to relieve your stress.” She really motivated me to sign up for the class, and I’m so glad I did. I’m going to carry this tool with me forever. It’s not going to end after high school, I’m going to carry it with me to college and the rest of my life and I’m really grateful for that. 

J: Just to reflect on something you were saying earlier, you mentioned just how motivated you are for your community and family. I will say that almost everybody feels that desire to some extent but not everybody can do what you’ve done, and that says a lot about your hard work.

M: Since 9th grade I kept in mind what is my “why” – what is my purpose? I was really excited about going to high school in 8th grade. I was at a family gathering, and my cousins were there and asked me, “How are you doing? Do you have any plans for the future?” I said I was going to study really hard so I could go to UCLA or Harvard, Yale, Stanford… I was just naming universities, and what I was seeing from my cousins was really negative. They told me, “You should know by now that college isn’t for us. We’re working at minimum wage jobs, and that’s it. You’re not going to go to college.” It hurt so bad. They doubted me, and they discouraged me, but I didn’t let that affect me. And when I got my first letter of acceptance, which was from UCLA, I started crying because I proved them wrong. I told them that at a birthday party, and they still weren’t able to think I could succeed. They were, like, “You’re gonna drop out.”

I’m just not gonna let it affect me, because I could have, and I wouldn’t be where I am now. I like mentoring others because I don’t want them to hear, “Oh you’re not going to do it.” I want to tell them, “You know what, you are going to do it. You want to go to Harvard or Yale? You are going to do it, you just have to work really hard, and I’m going to be there for you.”

J: You’re talking about being that positive voice for other people… Where have you found that? Do you have a mentor who’s really helped guide you?

M: Yes… and that’s why when the charter renewal came around at our school I was one of the main people to be there, because I didn’t want the school to be shut down. The school and the administrators motivated me to keep going because they saw my potential.

J: This has been really inspiring. Is there anything else you want to share with people interested in stories about youth who are meditating?

M: With TM, you’re able to define what you want. When I’m meditating, I’m able to be with myself. I don’t know how to say it, but it’s all internal. I would definitely recommend that the Quiet Time Program be implemented in every school across the country because I’ve seen the benefits it’s had on me and my peers.

J: Can you say a little more about how you’ve seen TM and meditating directly impact those internal struggles?

M: Being able to meditate when you have all of these external conflicts, like for me with family, you just need time to find your internal voice. It needs to be greater than external voices because your internal voice is what matters. The Quiet Time Program helped me find that internal voice. I’m grateful for that.

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