I work on the university campus scene. Whatever your thoughts about the millennials, I love working with them. Seeing a flower blossom, discovering a rare diamond in the rough…you get it. They question, debate, and they are incredibly incisive in their analysis.
Occasionally the finished product walks into the student center. They are not just a straight-A student, but articulate, active, and charismatic. There is one such student right now who caught my eye with her presence and intelligence.
She had just returned from a national conference and was telling a group that gathered around her how inspired she felt. I caught her, a little while later, alone, with a frown on her face and after a few moments of cajoling she began to talk.
She had met a young man studying at Harvard and they had immediately hit it off. She discovered they were studying the same major, had exactly the same grades, and seemed in many ways to be very similar.
She began to grill him, trying to discover why an Ivy League school would take him and not her. The difference between them soon became apparent. His resume, in her words, was loaded. He had spent every summer in impressive internships, captained or initiated a variety of high school student groups or initiatives. He told her that he had stressed to balance his schoolwork and drive to have grades to reach a school like Harvard, together with all this extra-curriculum activity. She had been very impressed with him.
This young woman is the eldest daughter of a single mother. She had worked every summer since the ninth grade, contributing to the family’s limited financial resources. Her hard-working mother put in extra hours to make ends meet and did not want her high school daughter working during school-time instead of studying. But, as her mother worked long hours, the daughter needed to pick up her siblings, make them dinner, help them with their homework, and generally take care of them.
She would love to have experienced the internships that her new Harvard friend had done. She would have been proud to participate in the kind of high school activity that he had. But it was just not possible. Circumstances dictated that she took care of her family and she did this with understanding and good grace.
I salute this young woman’s drive to excel through education. I salute her mother, who sacrificed herself for a vision that her children would have an easier life than she did, using education as a vehicle to success.
I just wish Harvard and the Ivy League schools would do the same.
Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).