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As I fill out my passport application on a sunny Bay Area weekend, I think back to the fifteen-year-old adventurer with her first, and only, passport picture (Азаматтығы/гражданство/nationality: Kazakhstan) taken for the first time in Uralsk in preparation for her travels. In May, 1997, this fifteen-year-old had seen the rolls of perforated paper tape but had yet to touch a computer keyboard. She was excited to see the world. She spent her school years learning two languages besides her own, quoting an encyclopedia, diving into mathematical formulas and graphs, and absorbing the contents of her home and town library because learning everything she could about the universe around her made her very happy.

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A while back I spoke with a group of young men and women from San Francisco International High School as part of Changemakers project organized by their teachers. How I wish I had been given a chance to learn the same lessons at fifteen: that making change in our communities starts with someone unafraid to speak out. Our meeting was extraordinary not just because it happened in my lifetime, but because it took place at all.

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Sunshine. There’s so much sun and warmth to wake me up from Midwest winter hibernation, though the weather in Silicon Valley is refreshingly cool, all year around. I am still getting used to seeing sunlit sky every single day and not having to worry about winter clothes. Air. The air here makes me aware of each breath I take. It’s dry and cool, and invigorating. Nothing beats that fresh morning breeze from the lake, with the scent of pine and blossoms of the season.

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