By Ragi Bashonga:
Four words and eleven letters that have carried meaning for generations before us and will continue to resound in the minds of those to follow. I, like Martin Luther King, had a dream and until a few days ago it was so close to becoming a reality that I began to fear it, only to find that the monster in my closet was a lot scarier than the one under my bed.
This story begins with a girl; it ends with a woman (or someone strongly resembling one).
“We regret to inform you…” Once the response to your university honors program application begins with those words, you already know it is over; that it is useless to read on. I remember the day clearly; emotion holds more life than the scenario, a scene in which emotion had a scent, a pungent taste and a grim appearance that could not even be clouded by tears. I recall whispering the name of God as I sat on my bedroom floor clutching on to the hope I had that He'd appear in my room and hand me back my hopes and dreams, neatly packaged in a box. But, I too regret to inform you that He didn't.
Having obtained my undergraduate degree majoring in Psychology, I felt like a woman; one with intellect and purpose. I looked at my aspiration of becoming an arts therapist, the achievement and work of the years gone past painted a perfect picture for me. And like a girl who ran out in a storm to show her dad the painting she made, I would soon realize that canvas can't withstand the rain.
Staring at my reflection lately, not in the mirror but in my soul, my mind has journeyed back to a series of conversations I had with a friend of mine this past year. The wording was but a vague memory but what did indeed stand out was the passion he had to drop out of varsity. It is not because he struggled, but because he had a vision greater than a piece of paper that would 'qualify' him to do something he already knew how to do. I had long before thought that what captured my attention about our conversations was how determined he was to disprove the common phrase “education is key”. But no, that wasn't it. What captured my heart was his willingness to take the risk; the risk to go against the norm of our age and fail, the risk to take the chance and succeed. There was a fire in his speech that convinced me – a sworn believer in an educated and cultivated mind that we university kids may possibly be ill-informed. I realize now that in a paradoxical way, we've both taken that risk. I risked paying thousands of rands on a degree that in fact wouldn't get me my dream career, one that would be a mere stepping stone and not the trophy I thought it would be. I came to the realization that my goal actually wasn't about degrees and qualification, no; it was about the very heart of people, meeting with the heart of God and the heart of the arts.
Looking into the mirror today was different. I didn't see a little girl who had built a world of sandcastles. I saw a woman, one with vision. I saw a woman, who had walked a journey that took a wrong turn, but her destination remained unchanged, one who's been bruised but has given up the chase of covering it up with make-up – I am beautiful regardless. I realized today that in my one hand I have a degree, in the other I have the only thing that has ever really mattered – a vision fueled by ambition. More importantly, in both hands I have fingers – fingers that can hold a pen and create a world with words, fingers skilled with paint and colour; even though they know nothing of technique these are fingers willing to work and touch. Fingers that will leave a mark in this world to a greater degree than that university degree ever would. Unique fingers; those two words now motivate my response to the University of Ambition “I regret to inform you that you are not getting rid of me that easily!”
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