No one gets to where he is by himself. I reflected on this last week when the American Arab Chamber of Commerce honored me with the Economic Bridge Builder of the Year Award.
I’m grateful to those who went before me building bridges, especially to my father Ramsey, who immigrated to the United States, in 1973, from Armenia, with my three brothers and sister. I was only 9 when we arrived. I’m also grateful to the kind people who loaned my dad $200 for the trip, as well as to the generosity of the family who allowed us to live in their basement. Many other selfless people from the local church brought us things to get started – a mattress – a lamp – and food.
I consider it a blessing to have been poor. Today, most students don’t think about how fortunate they are to have light in order to read and study by. These generous people who helped my family were bridge builders. We all need to be bridge builders. To reach back . . . to lay the track so someone can cross over behind us.
There’s a poem by Will Allen Dromgoole, written in 1900, called, “The Bridge Builder.” It’s about an old man who crosses a river on a cold, dark night. When he gets to the other side, he builds a bridge. A pilgrim observes him and asks why he took the trouble since he had safely crossed. The old man explains that a young man will follow soon after, so he built the bridge for him.
“This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”
I accepted the Chamber’s award on behalf of all of the bridge builders who have helped me and my family over the years. I don’t take any of my many blessings for granted, especially my faith, my large and loving family, and the beautiful United States of America. What a great country this is when you can still make dreams come true through hard work.
My challenge to everyone is to become a bridge builder. To do something for others without expecting payment or recognition.
For business leaders, it might be taking time to meet with a student or an eager entrepreneur who needs guidance. For others, it might be donating to a cause that feeds people, or helps today’s immigrants. I particularly find pleasure in assisting police officers and departments, as well as our military men and women who protect our freedom and country.
Reflect on what you’re most grateful for and that will lead you to those who need help. If we all become bridge builders, imagine how connected and kind our world would be.
On my right is American Arab Chamber of Commerce Chairman Ahmad Chebbani; my long-time friend and Weight Watchers Group CEO Florine Mark is on my other side. Chamber Executive Director Fay Beydoun is on the end.