Growing up in Kenya—about 25 miles from Nairobi—quality private education was expensive, and my parents were not exactly making the big bucks. I remember once, in 7th or 8th grade, I was sent home from school for not paying tuition on time. It was rather devastating on my 13 year old heart, and I arrived home in tears, unable to comprehend why my mother couldn’t pay up and send me back to school. I ACTUALLY loved learning and being sent away for monetary reasons seemed hugely unfair.
So what did I do? I decided, at some point during high school, that I was going to get the highest level of education available. I can’t remember what I was watching on TV—it was some kind of talk show—but the guest speaker was a 30 year old man with a PhD. THAT, immediately, spelt out the extent of my dreams. I decided I would get my doctorate by the time I was 30. It just seemed like a really cool idea! And as I slowly discovered, it was even possible to make this happen without paying a dime!
My initial goal was to get a PhD in genetic engineering. Yes, I know: from genetic engineering to African literature!! Why genetics? It sounded exotic, and cosmopolitan, and suave. It was the farthest thing I could imagine from a poor, lanky kid in low quality school uniform turned away from school. And I cherished it!
I have been extremely fortunate in life: I have received upwards of US$500K in tuition grants from strangers—people I’ll never even meet; I have opportunities to fulfil the wanderlust in me; and I can still jog a good marathon.
Today is one day in the year when I bend a knee, and bow my head—in reverence, gratitude, and respect—to all my (s)heroes, unnamed and unsung. Especially those with whom I’ve disagreed.
And so, I ask myself, for what purpose are my educational and global experiences? Are they an end in themselves? Are they tools in the fight against social injustice? How can they aid in the quest for increased opportunities to those without? My recent journeys from Birmingham to Montgomery, from Little Rock to Memphis, left me in awe of the task ahead of us. I feel quite lucky to have received SO much; and I demand even more from myself. This is my choice. It’s how my universe works.
Hence, this is what lies ahead: the chance to love, boldly and fearlessly; opportunity to stand up and be counted, in small ways and big ways; moments of learning and teaching, ethically and humanely; and space to create, dangerously.
For a full-length CV, please check out: www.linkedin.com/in/ngangamuchiri
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