Tuesday, August 02, 2011


I've been thinking about going back to school and as the expenses I am facing are in the vicinity of 100,000 USD, I have also been looking for scholarships.

Reading the descriptions of scholarships brings an uncomfortable feelings. Merit based ones are easier to confront. Not a big deal, my grades do the talking - sometimes they got me some money, sometimes not. Life goes on. Merit scholarships sometimes become intimidating when they state they're looking for 'exceptional', 'exemplary', 'outstanding', 'visionary' individuals with "demonstrated leadership skills" and ...what not. Their essays ask the candidate to write why s/he thinks they're so special. I'm paraphrasing but that's what it comes down to.

Why do I think I'm special? Actually, I don't ... if I thought I was so special, I don't think I'd go to school at all. At least by my definition, Bill Gates was special ... hence why he quit school which he, appropriately, deemed unnecessary. I am not so special and therefore need further instruction. No?


Then there are the need based ones, which are just plain horrible. Some even have clauses in there that they are meant to be for people with unconventional backgrounds. When you look into blurbs of previous scholarship recipients you see mother of three by age 20, first to attend college in family, endured extreme hardship in life, etc, etc.

Quite frankly, I've had it easy. For my admissions application I wrote essays littered with my Ethiopian background and departure from my homeland at a time of political unrest (it's true ... but it's not like I trekked for days, malnutritioned, hiding behind bushes trying to reach the boarder. My parents bought me an Ethiopian Airlines economy class ticket. I flew with my ex-stewardess aunt, who got us upgraded to first class. For a 14 year old, that was sweet. In fact, as a 30 yr old, I still think that'd be cool.) I wrote of apartheid and struggling in society with language barriers, yaddi yaddi yadda. It felt ok to write in my application, because that was my experience and it has shaped me into the person that I am now. However, it did not crush me. I didn't even inconvenience me. Whatever happened put me in a trajectory that led me to a state of self sufficiency. Yes, I could have done better, or worse. But I'm ok with where I am now.

When it comes to writing my story to convince somebody to part with their money on my behalf, it becomes sticky. Frankly, I think there are a lot of other deserving people out there. I am hard pressed to write an honest, convincing essay that I deserve being funded more than anybody else.

So I'm looking at 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 scholarships and wondering if I want to paint my life in a light that will make me seem like a recovery from the brink of disaster, or lose the chance for funding because I've led a life slightly unconventional by American standards, but otherwise quite ordinary.

Where's the scholarship for ordinary people? Why is it that society always tries to push those on top or bottom higher, but never the middle? Does the middle have to stay there .... forever?

So, should I be top or bottom today? (Naughty, naughty! Get your mind out of the gutter.)

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