What is a personal legend and why does it matter? The idea of a personal legend is at the forefront of the allegorical tale penned by Paolo Coelho in The Alchemist. Santiago, a young shepherd, sets out on a quest to find treasure but in doing so is truly in search of his personal legend. A personal legend is someone’s destiny, the way in which they are to make their mark on the world.
When I first began to think about what I wanted to do for my community-building project, I had no idea. Before panic set in, it occurred to me that as an English major at Portland State one thing I do a lot of is read. When I partnered up with Janus Youth and their HOPE partnership at MacLaren correctional facility in Oregon, I thought it was a long shot but I suggested a book club. I was surprised, and heartened, by the knowledge that the young men there had wanted to do one for ages, and I would be able to at least get them started. After offering up a list of seventeen classic novels, we chose The Alchemist to begin our book club journey.
Over the course of this term I have met with, spoken to, and engaged with young men I probably never would have otherwise. It was easy to be nervous the first time I entered the facility, unsure of who I would meet, and what I could offer. It wasn’t that I was scared of them; I was more scared of my ability to connect, to have anything of worth to say. What I soon learned was that it didn’t matter what I had to say. It mattered what they had to say. These young men were engaging, they were interesting, and they wanted to make an impact on the world. I was honestly touched to hear about their plans for the future. As a middle-class, white, college student I was often cynical about the world and about my ability to make any changes. Go figure, these young men weren’t cynical at all. Many spoke of plans to leave MacLaren one day and create the safety nets they lacked themselves. The Oregon community will one day be lucky to have these young men in their midst.
It is easy as a society to turn our backs on those we think we can’t understand or have nothing in common with. The truth is that we are all part of the human community. We all have something to offer each other. Paul Loeb says, "Hope isn't an abstract theory about where human aspirations end and the impossible begins; it's a never-ending experiment, continually expanding the boundaries of the possible." I have to say this is the quote that perfectly summarizes my journey at MacLaren. In asking the young men to think of their personal legends, it was my own attempt at bringing in the possibility of hope, that never-ending experiment that says you never have to give up on anything you think can be achieved. This was truly an experiment for me, and I feel as if it was very successful. I had three hour-long conversations with the guys about the book and about their lives. The book club will continue on without me, and I’m so glad to have had a chance to participate at all.
Mobilizing Hope is a one of a kind Capstone opportunity presented by Portland State. I couldn’t have done it without my engaging classmates and their discussions, and Deb Arthur, our fearless leader. Thank you for facilitating what can only be described as a life changing experience. My cynicism ebbs and flows, but I know now that the experiment of hope is always worth trying.
~Kylen McCudden, Spring 2014