Living a Life Less Than Ordinary

 With my old high school principal Mr Inger.

With my old high school principal Mr Inger.

This year I was honoured to be the guest speaker for my old high school, Morrinsville College's Cultural Awards. Although it has been three years since my last day of high school, it felt like it was just yesterday that I was there. It made me realise how fast life goes by and it makes me want to cherish special moments even more. Being a guest speaker was a very special moment and I hope to get invited to do more speeches in the future. I have never been the greatest at public speaking but for the past months I have realised that speaking in front of people and inspiring others to be their most authentic self is what I would love to continue to do as it has always been a dream of mine. InsyaAllah, with whatever Allah has planned for me in the future, I just hope that He gives me the Hidayah to continue this passion of mine.

However, these past couple of weeks I have been busy doing my assignments and studying for my exams. SubhanAllah, it’s amazing how life comes to a full circle sometimes. On Monday I had my last ever exam for my degree, on Tuesday Facebook told me that it was three years since I had my last day of high-school and on Wednesday I went back to my old high-school to be the guest speaker. I’ve had a lot of full circle feelings lately. Alhamdulillah it is exactly times like this when I know that everything will happen perfectly at the right time, InsyaAllah and I’m always at awe to how synchronised my life is.

After I had said my speech it felt amazing to hear from people that what I said was exactly what they needed to hear at the time. A sweet old man had also came up to me to give me his favourite quote that reminded him of me and it was honestly the most sweetest thing ever. The quote had said:

Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.
— James M. Barie
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Nonetheless, this was my transcript and video for my speech. My mum had recorded me from far away so it is not of the best quality.

Three years ago I was sitting in the very same seat as you. If you knew me three years ago I was the nerdy, quite girl and possibly the teacher’s pet. I wasn’t in the cool kid’s group but I was with my tribe from when I was five years old and are still close to this day. I didn’t like being at the centre of attention and I definitely was not a pageant girl. 

Yes, I was in Miss Universe New Zealand 2018 and somehow, I made it to the Top 5. Even after I had trended on Twitter twice, went viral all over the world- where one article had over 23 000 shares and even after I did countless media interviews, photoshoots, TV shows and radio talks, I honestly still can’t believe that I was in a beauty pageant. Every time I think about it, I can’t help but laugh. Like was all that a joke? Because everything seems so surreal.

The biggest joke of all was probably when the biggest TV show in Malaysia with millions of viewers asked me to do a segment on how to exercise. Let me tell you, I would wag every cross country or sporting event and I tried to make any excuse to get out of P.E. So, as you can tell I’ve never been invited to any sport awards but I do get invited to cultural awards. And I feel absolutely honoured to be standing here tonight.

I feel honoured because this school has shaped me into the person that I am. I am grateful because there are so many teachers here that has helped me and believed in me and this school has given me so many opportunities that had set me up for the rest of my life. So, I would like to say thank you to Morrinsville College.

It was also three years ago when I had to make a speech called ‘A life less than ordinary’ for NCEA level three English. I can tell you that once you are done with high school, everything goes by so fast and a lot of things can happen. And so for tonight I will talk about how I continued living a less than ordinary life and the three reminders that got me through the past three years.

Firstly, everything will always be okay. And I can promise you that. On Monday, it was my last ever exam for my Bachelor Degree in Social Science at the University of Waikato. So, this is when I’m going to shock some of the teachers here and probably my mum as well since she still doesn’t know. Originally, I was at Otago University where I wanted to pursue medicine. It had always been my dream of mine because I wanted to help people. But rather than sitting my first exams, I took a trip to Queenstown instead.

When I got back, I received the news that I was exceptionally withdrawn from my papers and so I applied to study here at Waikato. I had to start all over again in B Semester 2016 but now I am proud to say that I am the first in my family to complete university and that I was able to finish my three-year degree in two and a half years. But let me tell you, it wasn’t an easy feat. I was taking extra papers which meant extra pressure, I was working full time at the meatworks, I had other commitments, I was travelling overseas and I was in Miss Universe New Zealand. But because I had showed up, I had put in the effort and I trusted that everything will be okay, everything actually turned out for the better.   

So that leads me to my second reminder, everything happens for a reason. Moving back home was a very difficult decision but I am so grateful that I did because I was then studying something that I was even more passionate about.

 Nonetheless, somehow last year at a tender age of 20, I found myself in a mid-life crisis. I had hit lower than rock-bottom. I didn’t know who I was anymore and my friends didn’t like who I was turning into. Then one day something within me just clicked and ever since then I just focused on being the most authentic version of myself. I learnt to love myself, how to be resilient and I did things that gave me joy and most importantly, I built my own self-worth and I was able to make myself happy. You see, when you hit rock-bottom it doesn’t mean that you will remain a failure or depressed for the rest of your life. It’s the perfect place and perfect opportunity for you to grow and be the greatest version of yourself. If I had not gone back home or went through my mid-life crisis, I would have not worked on myself and I definitely would have not competed in Miss Universe New Zealand.

You see, everything begins with you because no one can really save you except for yourself. Therefore, I think resilience is one of the most important things to have. So that no matter what happens, you can overcome anything. And if you want to change, then just make a start. Once you start, do everything that you can to get to where you want to be. Along the way, just know that it’s okay to make mistakes and it is okay to ask for help. Because at the end of the day, you are more than just one circumstance, failure or even label.

 Nonetheless, along with my dream of wanting to help people, I had always wanted to do something that could change the world. Then one day I thought to myself: ‘what would happen if I entered Miss Universe New Zealand?’ As you can see, I wear the hijab and I do so for my love of God. But if I were to compete in Miss Universe New Zealand, I knew that I could be making history as it has never been done before. Not only that, but I could possibly help break boundaries and stereotypes for so many women around the world. And that was exactly what had happened. So, this brings me to my third reminder: always try your very best to remain optimistic and take every opportunity that interests you. Because honestly, one small optimistic thought had changed my life forever.

And again, I still can’t believe that I was in Miss Universe New Zealand. All of the other contestants were models or dancers, many have already competed or won in other pageants. So, I was definitely the odd one out as I had no experience whatsoever and I looked different. But during my time as a contestant I didn’t consider those things as a disadvantage. It’s because I knew exactly why I wanted to do Miss Universe New Zealand, I loved myself and I was confident that I didn’t compare myself to them. And in a world where we are constantly exposed to social media and media, it’s hard to not compare yourself to other people but you would achieve a lot more if you focus on yourself rather than focusing on other people.

Nonetheless, when I was on stage during the Grand Finals and live on TV I wasn’t nervous at all, instead I was excited and I was happy because I had done everything that I could and I was able to live my dream of inspiring young girls all over the world. Because I am part of the minority group and the standard of beauty is very westernised, I just hoped that by being on that stage and placing in the Top 5, I was able to help all women feel beautiful. And although I consider myself as an ordinary girl, this year I was also recognised as an extraordinary woman in New Zealand history to celebrate 125 years of women’s suffrage.

Nonetheless, the Miss Universe journey was the most amazing experience of my life. But my life is also made up of other moments too. Some of the best memories I had was during my time at Morrinsville College. I look back and I remember all of the good and all of the bad. Life isn’t easy and it is very unpredictable but I am grateful that everything had happened the way that it did. You see, everything that has happened in my life has led up to this point. Although a lot of things have already happened, I’m only 21 and I just finished university so this is only the beginning. I am so excited for what the future holds and I can’t wait to grow into the woman that I want to become.

So no matter who you are, where you come from, your past or the circumstances that you have, you have everything within you to achieve anything and everything you want. All you have to do is have trust, be resilient by loving yourself, know that everything happens for the better and always try your best to remain optimistic and to take every single opportunity. Lastly, for the students here today, just remember that three years ago, I was sitting in the very same seat as you. And even though you may live a less than ordinary life, you are more than capable to achieve extraordinary things.

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Nurul Shamsul