What makes a kid successful? Is it something that is ingrained in their DNA? Is it something that is nurtured during their formative years? Is it one specific event that wholly changed their path? I’m sure it is some combination of those and dozens of other things that happen along the web of life, but as an educator I have come across some examples that defy any sort of explanation.
One of my kids, I’ll call him D, has grown up with no father in his life – in fact does not know who his father even is. He’s currently a senior and going through the process of applying to colleges, filling out scholarship applications and deciding on a laptop to buy with the money he made working last summer. When he was younger, his mother – and I use that term only in the genetic sense – would often express her regret in having him in the first place. Money was often spent on the boyfriend-of-the-week. She does not attend any of his events (he’s been in band since 9th grade), has no interaction with his teachers and comes just shy of actively steering him away from going to college. D has a younger brother (5th grade) and sister (1st grade) that look up to him since he’s the only consistent male figure in their life. He has already begun talking to them about his expectations when he moves away to college. Mind you, he just turned 18.
D made a conscious decision when he was a freshman that he was not going to continue that cycle. He turned his grades around and is now making nearly all A’s. His overall GPA still isn’t in the top 20%, but the trend of those grades (and the level of the classes) speaks volumes. How a 14 year old kid makes that choice on his own without any positive influence in his life is utterly baffling to me. He is hoping to attend a university outside of San Antonio (for obvious reasons) to study Architecture. I have had many conversations about how difficult and rigorous that program is, but he says he is ready for that next challenge. I have no doubt that is true.
E is another one of my kids. He’s living in a house with 10 other people – and it’s not a house that one would normally consider being large enough for that number. E also does not have a father in his life, but his mother – and I mean that in the full sense of the word – has done everything in her ability to help her family. Money has always been in short supply, but E has never complained. Quite the opposite – when he found out that he needed braces in 9th grade and knowing that there was no way his mom could afford the cost, he started going around to his neighbors asking to do some odd jobs. He’s been paying for his own braces ever since.
Both of these young men have allowed me to proofread their college application essays. An opening paragraph of one of E’s essays spoke about wanting to reach some nebulous definition of success. I asked E what success would look like. He was quiet for several moments and when he did speak there was a definite quiver to his voice. He said ‘I want to buy my mom a bigger house.’ Nothing for himself or for any future family he may have of his own. He just wants to repay his mom for all the hard work she has put in for her family. In one of D’s essays he spoke about just wanting to improve the reputation of his last name. Not worried about the money he will make or the things he might be able to buy, but just wants to change how his name is viewed. Nothing more.
I’ve only known these two kids since August of 2014, so if you comment please don’t go on about the difference I am making. Both of these exceptional young men made their choices on their own and in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Next August, they will both be the first in their families to attend college. I don’t know how they have persevered through those obstacles, but I am very thankful that I am a small part of their lives. Kids like D and E – and kids like M, T, G, and another M that I’ve known for much longer- simply inspire me. I hope they do the same to you.