Two months ago, I received a wonderful, most unexpected gift, wrapped in the form of an email. My dear friend Sally Ryan, a CROSO board member, invited me to join the scholar selection committee. The timing was perfect; I had closed the chapter on another school year and was looking forward to the possibilities of summer. With a simple “yes,” I unknowingly began a four-week journey of renewal.
I’m a teacher. I’ve been teaching for almost 25 years and I simply love my work. It’s more than my job, it’s my vocation. And yet, two months ago, I felt quite ready for summer. I had mismanaged the work/life balance during the last months of school. Tired to the bone aptly described my state of being.
Shortly after I said goodbye to my students, I sat down at my dining room table with a thick stack of CROSO scholarship applications. The quietness of my home at this early morning hour allowed for total immersion in each applicant’s story. I began to read the first application and was immediately moved by the young man’s narrative – the unfathomable hardship, injustice, and struggle, and yet the palpable faith, perseverance, and hope. The next application, submitted by a young woman, painted a similar picture of steadfast determination despite lacking basic needs like food, shelter, and family. After reading the second story, I put the stack of applications away for the day and sat stunned as I reflected on these two students’ lives.
For the next two weeks, I started each morning by reading through one or two applications. Each voice stirred something in me. I spread the reading out, focusing on one or perhaps two young men or women each day to honor each story, to keep each person clearly defined in my head and in my heart. Tears welled up in my eyes. I could hear myself sighing for their struggles.
Civil war. Famine. Parents who died from AIDS. Children abandoned by parents. Picking food from the garbage. Sweeping floors to collect grains of rice to eat or to sell. Begging on the streets. Nowhere to sleep.
Yet the students also wrote about how their life experiences motivated them to pursue education at a university, college, or technical institution to change the situation for themselves and most especially for others in their communities. A vision and an optimism for a better future ran throughout each narrative. It was very hard to select my top five scholarship candidates, as I’d been assigned to do. Every single applicant gave evidence of courage and strength of character, demonstrated dedication to his or her community through volunteer work, and expressed a strong desire to continue education in order to give back to the community.
From the beginning of this process, these stories were gifts of hope that refreshed my tired spirit until it was overflowing with a new optimism and a resolve to do more. My simple “yes” allowed me to absorb these precious stories of restoration that, in turn, brought renewal to my soul.