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Before Paula sat down behind me, everyone was shifting uncomfortably in their seats in a futile attempt to avoid sweating in their florid formalwear. Paula was a vibrant mother who was soon able to change the atmosphere of the entire graduation. Paula’s father, who must have been close to ninety years old, was sitting to her left without a hat. Paula became worried about his bare head being completely exposed to the sun and she searched for a solution. This crafty woman appeared to be nothing more than your average soccer mom, trying to make due with the materials she was given. Later I realized she was anything but ordinary. She grabbed the graduation program and folded it into a provisional hat for her father. Naturally this ninety year old man looked absurd—wearing a paper hat at a college graduation—but Paula felt reassured, knowing he was safe from the sun. A man nearby thought the idea was brilliant, inspiring him to attempt to make his own. He eventually needed Paula’s help, which led others to request hats from this vivacious woman as well. After a few more hats were fabricated, our entire section was joyfully watching Paula systematically construct hats. At one point I asked Paula to make me a hat, partly because I could feel my head rising in temperature and partly because I wanted to take part in wearing a silly paper hat, which I hadn’t done since preschool.
While it started with a single hat for her father, Paula inadvertently created a trend stretching across the entire amphitheater. It began with one hat, then it was the majority of our section, and finally we saw most of the amphitheater wearing hats made from programs. I looked around in awe as I tried to comprehend how so many mature adults would wear seemingly juvenile paper hats at a formal event. I had expected the attending adults to be more mature, perhaps even snobby. Seeing a large potion of the crowd wearing paper hats made me more comfortable; I was able to sit back and watch the absurdity while sharing a few laughs with fellow strangers. Most of the people giggled at how ridiculous they felt, but my thoughts were focused on Paula.
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What Paula indirectly taught me was how one person can make a difference. She wasn’t trying to create a revolution, only to protect her father from the sun. Not only did she encourage her after to shelter his head, but she influenced 2000 other people to shield theirs as well. This kept them better protected from the sun as well as creating a comical, makeshift community between all of us participants. She is the kind of individual I hope to become. My ideal careers are either teaching or something in the field of psychology. I have always wanted to be the type of person to have a positive impact on many lives around me, which is why those are my two principle career choices. If I open myself up to new experiences, as the adults did to those hats, then I will be able to help others and make a difference by simply taking a risk, just as Paula did. As much as I always knew a single person could make a difference, this experience helped me clearly visualize the immense impact one person can have.