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What graduation meant to me

When I came to live in Lima, Peru, there were so many no-fun and stressful things that I needed to do. I

needed to apply for my residency visa, sell my car, move all of my things into a storage unit, as well as figure out my school situation. I was about halfway through my degree and wasn’t sure how I would be able to finish. If I’m being honest, my first reaction was just to not finish my education. I thought, why do I need a college degree anyways? I am already going to be working in the field I want to be in, does it even really matter? I prayed about it, talked to my parents, prayed about it some more, talked my parents some more. Part of me thinks that I was struggling so much with this decision because my life had become very chaotic with my move 3,000 miles south that I was making excuses to not add more craziness.

At one point during this time, my mom said to me “Rachel, you literally work with college students who have fought an uphill battle to get an higher education. What kind of example would you be setting if you just give up?” Dang it. She was right. Like always. Right then and there I knew that I needed to finish my degree. No more lame excuses. I just needed to push through and do it.

Looking back on these past (almost) two years, to say that finishing my degree has been a struggle would be an understatement. Every single time we had an American service team coming in I was, without fail, either in the middle of midterms or finals. It was uncanny. I remember picking up the teams at the airport and getting back to my apartment at 2 AM only to study for my upcoming exams until 5 AM, get two hours of sleep and be ready to build houses at 8 AM. I remember bringing my laptop on a field trip to the beach for our college students that I had to help lead. I took advantage of any possible moment to work on an essay that was due later that day. There are endless situations like this that I had to face and there were too many I-can’t-do-this breakdowns to count (thanks mom for always talking me off the ledge).

Even though it was hard, I was always humbled and made aware of my pity-party-of-one when I would hear about the challenges that our scholarship students had to face. We have a student who lost his mom to cancer last month. He needed to go to Cusco to be with his family and plan the funeral and STILL ended his semester passing his classes with flying colors. We have another student who, due to his job and studies, does not have the time to sleep a wink four days out of the week but always manages to pull through with great grades. We have a student who is a mom of two kids, one of which is severely disabled. She manages to work, be an amazing mom and still keep up with her assignments. All of our students have obstacles like this and they don’t complain. They don’t make excuses. They don’t sit there feeling bad for themselves.

This experience of finishing my college degree has completely changed my life. The same 61 Peruvian college students who inspire me every day are now telling me that they are going to follow my example, which completely blows my mind. I still cannot believe that I finished, I can’t believe that I am a college graduate, and, most importantly, I can’t believe that I am blessed enough to work a job that gives people the opportunity to make the same, at times seemingly unattainable, accomplishment. As our Director of Operations Giovanna Caceres once said to me, “Your education is the one thing that no one can take away from you. Once you have it, it is your accomplishment that follows you your whole life.”



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