Scholarship for Life

My daughter K is named for my sister, who died of cancer when she was 17, in the fall of her senior year of high school. Our family set up a scholarship for a graduating senior who has displayed “the courage to face adversity and persevere.”. Each year the school sends me the applicants’ packets, who must write an essay describing how they meet that criteria.

Adversity for many 17 year olds is entirely relative. It’s been interesting to read the essays over the years – they range from kids with sprained ankles who couldn’t play soccer, to one kid who emancipated herself from abusive parents who was actually living on her own.

It’s also been interesting to see how the demographics of the kids has changed over the years. When my sister and I were in high school our town and school were very, very white. I cannot remember a non-Caucasian student except for the exchange students in my senior class – one from Peru and one from Mexico. This year’s crop of 12 applicants include 3 Asian students, 1 Syrian, and 1 African-American. And the reason I know this is because the adversity they describe relates to their race and/or country of origin.

My mother and step-mother would like to believe that racism no longer exists, and that my kids have nothing to worry about. Right now my kids have my white-ness as their shield in navigating the world – they are rarely without me and my privilege gives them access where it might otherwise not. But I also see the racism exhibited in my own family – the same mother who claims racism is no more, holds her purse tighter when a family with dark skin enter the fast food restaurant we’re visiting with my kids.

No conclusions here, only thoughts, observations, concerns. And the knowledge that I am not doing enough for my kids.

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2 responses to “Scholarship for Life

  1. I used to administer a scholarship program for children in this area who were first generation college students. They apply in the 8th grade and those who are accepted enter a program which provides summer programs and extra tutoring, etc., without charge to the student, plus full tuition to either the state University of any of the community colleges in the state. 8th-graders just can’t write, but they told fascinating stories. One child who had seen her mother murdered by her father didn’t mention this fact in her essay, just that her mother had died and she was living with her grandparents, who couldn’t afford to send her to college. Another child who had a perfectly lovely home life complained loud and long about how her parents couldn’t afford to send her to college, but she also had every electronic gadget money could buy. Most of them were truly needy, and it was agonizing to try to pick a few from the hundreds of applications. The program recently got a huge infusion of state money, so I’m hoping that the number of participants can be increased.
    We are in a largely white area, but the few African-American students we have are usually warmly accepted. Poverty is no respecter of persons, and those affected by it often form a solidarity not found in wealthier areas.
    I think that just being aware of the situation they’re in means you’re doing quite well by your kids. I have a feeling that I’m the one not doing enough, because it’s not something I have to think about for them.

  2. It’s funny – I chose the town we live in because of my perception of it having a more racially diverse population than several surrounding towns. And I suppose it does, in comparison. Sometimes I envy my friends and co-workers who don’t “have” to take that into account in choosing a town/school system for their kids. But I did choose to raise children of a different race than my own, and when it comes down to it, my envy is more about convenience for me, rather than what might be right for them. So I admit to my selfishness. To which I feel entitled to FEEL, even if I don’t act on it. And I cringe at the folks who say they are choosing a school or neighborhood for its lack of diversity. Makes me realize what an uphill battle it really is.

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