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Tolu Olubunmi Headshot

A Year Ago Today...

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A year ago today, I stood where I could not have imagined I ever would. On June 11, 2013 I had the privilege of introducing President Barack Obama at the White House before his speech on immigration reform.

The year gone by hasn't dimmed the image of the President of the United States walking beside me, talking with me, and, above all, listening to me. It hasn't erased the truth that on that day I walked into the White House carrying the fading dreams of many but walked out emboldening countless, including myself to dream again, to dream bigger. My life's journey is filled with tales of the improbable becoming inevitable. My road to the White House -- a road less traveled -- stands as a testament.

For more years than I wish to recount, I have been forced to exist in the gray areas of society, forced to submit my ambition to the limits placed on me by my undocumented status. Hope dimmed for the little girl inside me that dreamed of being an engineer, the little girl who thought a chemical engineering diploma would save the day. But long after the memories of the commencement speeches faded, I stood alone still waiting for life to begin.

In 2008, inspired by the presidential election, I decided to stop waiting. In a moment of clarity, born out of necessity, nurtured by the untenable circumstances of the powerless and driven by the need for a more just society, I resolved to focus my energy on changing the lives of others like me, never presuming I could change my own life in the process. My resolve to be the change I wanted to see in the world required a strength I never knew I had and gave back to me what I had long lost -- hope.

Hope changes everything. Hope tells you that you matter. Hope tells you that you can make a difference and your presence means something. Hope changes not only your reality, but also that of the people around you. Some you know, some you'll come to know, and others you'll never know -- but the truth of your presence in this time, at this moment changes everything for them.

Anchored to hope, I took on the challenge issued to us all: "Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can." I set aside my childhood dreams and dedicated myself completely to promoting political, social, and economic equality of all people.

My road to the White House, with its twists, turns, and uncertainties, serves as evidence of the enduring strength of the American immigrant. For this reason, I am honored to help lead our nation in celebrating the inaugural Immigrant Heritage Month.

We are a nation fueled by immigrants from around the world, who have all been united by the common cause of building a better life for themselves and their families, and building a stronger America for us all. Throughout the month of June, Welcome.us is celebrating our nation's diverse immigrant heritage and the many stories of American success as a result of our distinct experiences from both yesterday and today.

At its core, Immigrant Heritage Month is a celebration of hope. Hope that comes from sharing the struggles and triumphs of decades and centuries past. Hope that assures us that our future is anchored firmly in the truth that in America, with a good idea and enough hard work, anything is possible -- my story is possible, and so are your dreams.

Today, I pause in memory of that Tuesday morning, when I was humbled by the privilege of being a beacon a hope.

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