And We’re Upset About College Admissions Decisions… Why Exactly?

 And We’re Upset About College Admissions Decisions… Why Exactly?I was present recently for a skype session between my volunteer organization, treating trauma in Newtown CT, and a group of Rwandan genocide orphans who are now in their early 20s.   The older brother of one of the murdered Sandy Hook 1st graders teamed up with a middle-school classmate to raise $2100 to send one of these Rwandans to university (how’s that for paying it forward?).  When our leader Lori Leyden told the Rwandans about the opportunity for one of them to go on to college, the whole group of them burst into wild applause.  There were many tears, both in Rwanda and in Sandy Hook, CT.  It was a very touching and authentic moment.

One of the Rwandans, whom I will call Charles, told us about his life and what it meant for him to attend university the year before because of similar fund raising led by Lori.   Here is his story.

Charles was a small boy (maybe 4?) when the genocide happened.  He ran into the jungle and hid for many days after his whole family had been killed, eating berries and roots and even bugs to stay alive.  (Can you imagine?  A 4 yr old alone in the bush, fending for himself for days?  As a parent, are you clutching your heart?) Eventually he ran into other people who were hiding from the killing and they got him across a river to a refugee camp where he lived for many months.  When the killing ended, he had nowhere to go, so he was sent on to a charity school where he stayed until the age of 18.  Charles did well in school and had dreams of attending university that were “as realistic as living on the moon”.   In the end, he did get the chance to enroll at university (engineering?) and he spoke with passion about how it has changed his life.  There were no dry eyes within 100 yards.

Another now at university, whom I’ll call Rose, was 5 when the bad men came and killed her family.  She was macheted in the neck and left for dead in a pile of bodies for many hours (yes, she still has the scar).  At sundown she heard a voice tell her to get up and run because the bad men were coming back.  She did and they did and she watched from the jungle as they made one more pass to make sure everyone was dead.  For a whole month Rose roamed the countryside, hiding by day in the jungle, sleeping at night among dead bodies (at age 5!) as she went from village to village until she made her way to ultimate safety, schooling and eventually to university.

Young people all over the world, like Charles and Rose, have little chance of securing a higher education.  When that chance comes for them, they feel as if they have been hit by celestial lightening, and they take full advantage of the opportunity because in most cases, so many others are depending on them.

Education means everything.  It is the best way to change one’s social status and future.  In most countries it means the difference between a life of poverty/begging to get by and having a full life.  Education is the only thing worth working so hard for because there is mobility and dignity embedded within it.

We in the US have the luxury of bitching about college choices and the unfairness of being admitted to our #3 choice instead of our #1 choice.  To some it feels like the end of the world.  I just wish that every student and parent who has felt this way could have witnessed this skype call to put it all in perspective.

We are so lucky in the US and the Western World.  We have education aplenty.  We have choices.  We have ways to pay for this.  And so often we lose the context of our luckiness.

If you are a parent who holds bitterness about your child’s college decisions, please stop right now and be grateful that your 4 yr old wasn’t alone in the great outdoors for days, or sleeping among the exposed dead for a month in the tropical heat in order to survive.  Your child has had rejection, not a life threatening experience.

We all need to get a grip on the reality of college admissions.

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