“There are three major social issues that this country is struggling with: education, poverty, and drugs. Two of them we talk about, and one of them we don’t.” – Steven Soderbergh
This last Valentine’s Day, I was given one of the greatest and most bittersweet gifts that anyone about to graduate college could be given. But before I get into that story, I need tell you another.
Back when I was in high school, my father owned a restaurant in Winter Park Plaza called “House of Kabob,” where Chomp Chomp Pizza is now located. Over the years, he had gotten to know many members of the staff and faculty and talked endlessly to anyone who would listen about his son who had big dreams of going to a good school. I had never heard of Rollins and the best thing I hoped for was getting into UF and scoring high enough on my SATs to get a Bright Futures Scholarship.
Around the time I was ending my sophomore year, my dad asked if I wanted to take a tour of the campus. I didn’t really feel like it, especially if it meant having to give up one of my precious Saturday mornings. But, as usual, my father would not take no for an answer, so I begrudgingly obliged. In the course of two hours, I fell in love with this school and the people who worked here. I did not care what it took or what I had to sacrifice. At the end of that tour, a fire was lit inside me: this was the place for me. But my road to Rollins would not be easy. It wasn’t that I was lazy or wasn’t dedicated… it was because I didn’t have the money for this place.
I come from what some would neatly describe as a “lower middle class” family. Roughly 30 years ago, my parents left Iran for the same reason: they knew that the opportunity to grow and find true freedom was no longer available in their home country.
My mother, after first being a cashier at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, worked hard to become a beautician and has cut hair for as long as I’ve been alive. My father has worked every menial labor job under the stereotypical sun. He has worked in auto repair shops, was a driver and manager at Dominos, a projector salesman, drove taxis and town cars, and now works up to twelve hours a day at two local pizza joints. More than twenty years ago, my parents met and knew that if they were going to have children, they would give anything to make sure they never had to struggle and would be more successful than they could ever imagine.
My parents never allowed me to get a job. To them, my only job was to get straight A’s and be the best student I could be. I studied my hardest every night because I couldn’t bare the guilt of coming home with any less than my best. And when it came to getting into college, it was no different. It may have cost me my whole summer before senior year and taking the SATs three times, but I was finally able to get a high enough score to qualify for a scholarship or two. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had gotten into my dream school if I couldn’t pay for it.
In January of my senior year of high school, I received a letter from Rollins. Not only was I accepted into the school, but I also was invited to their “Cornell Scholars Weekend.” I was given the opportunity to be awarded a full ride. I couldn’t believe it.
With my heart in my throat, I ran and told my parents the news. They started tearing up, and even though I had to compete against thirty-nine other people, the letter at least guaranteed me a decent scholarship, worth a majority of the tuition costs. My dream was becoming a reality. I could live at home and commute every day if I had to for classes. This big burden was finally lifted off my family’s chest. And when I ended up becoming one of ten students awarded the Cornell Scholarship, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house that night.
Why do I tell you all this? Because life has a funny way of coming full circle.
Ever since I saw the first Harry Potter movie, I always wanted to go to visit the United Kingdom, and when I got older, I fell madly in love with the culture, the beauty, and the history surrounding England. From the moment I visited Cambridge for a debate tournament my freshman year at Rollins, I knew I wanted to go back.
So, last semester, I applied for the Fulbright to go to England and get my Master’s in Social Policy and Planning at the London School of Economics. It was a lofty goal, but if there is ever an opportunity to pursue a dream, then why not take the leap towards it?
Unfortunately, I was in the same dilemma as I was trying to go to Rollins, only this time, it was far worse. For the last six years, my parents have been fighting to keep our home from going into foreclosure. And recently, the outcome was put to me quite frankly: it’s not a matter of if, but when. So, all my hopes and dreams of going to London were contingent on if I got the Fulbright.
I wasn’t even asked for an interview.
This is where the bittersweet kicks in. Because after working as hard in college as I did in high school, in the middle of my honors thesis, and on the ultimate day of love… I got accepted into the London School of Economics.
Everyone has been the sweetest about me getting in, but many don’t understand how I can even question going or not. In today’s world, brains can only get you so far.
I know that I shouldn’t be bitter and I know I should be humble with even an acceptance, but I can’t help feeling so angry that my education and my future is no longer dictated by my drive or intellect, but instead how much I can fork over. Welcome to life.
I don’t tell you this as a sob story. I tell you this because this IS my life. This is my experience. But if I have learned anything, it’s that you always go down swinging, especially if it’s for your dreams.
I will spend the limited time I have left doing whatever I can to keep my dream alive: applying for financial aid, submitting applications for scholarships, etc. And if I still can’t reach my goal, then at least it won’t be for a lack of trying.
The real world does not always have happy endings, but there are always moments that test our resilience and resolve. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month. No matter what, I will fight, and if I lose, I will do so standing tall, knowing I gave it everything I could. I will not go home having given less than my best.