Wilson Kubwayo, college graduateImagine hanging on an edge cliff by a stone with your right hand. You look down and you cannot see the end of the hole. You hold the edge of the stone a little tighter because you are terrified.

You look down again and the deepness of the hole assures that you will forever be forgotten if you ever let go of yourself. You hold onto the edge of the stone even more. This time a little tighter, because not only are you terrified, you are confused at how you got there.

You tell yourself, “I wish I were bigger, stronger, and a little smarter…I could then pull myself up.”

Has this ever happened to you? It happens to me all the time.

Many times I’ve felt like I was hanging on the edge of a cliff with one hand and one choice away from letting go. Let’s face it, I left my birth country, Burundi, at two years old and went to live in a refugee camp. In addition, I was never school smart. Compared with my siblings, I was the child who always brought home the lowest grades—D grades to be more exact.

I never thought I would admit this, but I felt lowly, defeated and small. However, I was always the child with a lot of energy and the one who wanted to get stuff done. Let’s put it like this; school and I did not like each other. In first grade, I was number 62 out of 65 children that passed first grade. The numbers were chronological, and having only three people behind me meant I was lucky to pass first grade. Compared to my siblings who were frequently the first five students that did well in their classes, you can imagine how that made me feel.

I love my parents because they didn’t laugh at me. They made me feel like I would do okay in the future. When it was time for gifts I did receive gifts, but I did not get the same gifts as my siblings. I hated school. My dad had to put a whooping on my back in order for me to go to school. It got worse in second grade. I talked too much in class and students thought I was funny.

One day my teacher got angry and slapped me on my head, it felt like my head was on fire. I was dizzy, confused, and that day I walked home with a sore head that hurt so bad it made me feel like I had a sore throat. Of course my dad reported the teacher and nothing was done. It was then and there when the word “hate” could not describe my feelings toward school.

When I failed second grade, my only dream was to reach the age when I was no longer required to go to school. I craved getting older and making my own decisions. School and I were not in a relationship, I wanted a break up.

When we face difficulties we wish our life was not our own. We lose focus and wander around hoping that the time will go on and life will change. Sometimes, the people we look up to are the ones that misunderstand us the most. They represent the opposite of what we thought they were. However, our destiny awaits us to find ourselves and keep moving forward.

Discovering one’s identity is the one of the most difficult things to do. However, it is also one of the easiest things to do. It requires curiosity, resiliency and tenacity.

I kept going to school simply because I had no choice. My dad showed me that education was important. Living in the camp, some students would quit school because they could not afford to pay for it every semester. I was gifted, but did not want to be rewarded. I had sight, but did not want to see. I am reminded of Helen Keller’s quote, “the only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

At 12 years old everything changed. I began to question life. What’s my purpose? What was I put here to accomplish? On television, I saw people surfing, people eating food that I have never seen, people at the beach walking in the white sand and it broke my heart.

I questioned how I got in the refugee camp and why the world was tilted. It showed me a lifestyle that was different from the one in the camp.

At 12 years old my family was fortunate to come along with other refugees to the United States. I was a little rebellious. I was wild and stupid—I guess I did not know if I was born to grow.

I had difficulties in school. Not only in academics, but learning the English language as well. Life became tougher even when we came to the United States in 2008 as refugees. I cared less about school, skipped classes, caused trouble, and admittedly, I was heading in the wrong direction.

I struggled a lot as a freshman in high school—until I had my epiphany.

After high school, I went to a Catholic seminary at Saint Mary’s University, in Minnesota. I have always wanted to help people in my life—I needed to discover my calling in life. I was always interested in learning how an average person like me can make a significant difference in someone’s life.

After two and half years, I dropped out of the college seminary and wanted to take a different life path. I felt a strong calling to become an inspirational speaker and use my story to inspire others. I now love education. It is through education that I dared to pursue greatness despite my brokenness.

The road to get here was long, the road to get to this point was tiring.

No one could have ever convinced me that I would ever graduate college. No one could have made me understand how valuable I am—I have come to see it in my journey—every individual is purposeful simply because God gave them a purpose.

Despite my struggles I had to endure, the tears I had to cry, the challenges I had to overcome, words cannot express the joy I feel to call myself a college graduate.

Life is easier if you know what you want, your only duty is to go ahead and get it!

Never allow yourself to let go of the stone you are holding onto because you believe you cannot pull yourself up. With resiliency, tenacity and perseverance, not only will you be able to pull yourself up, you will one day be able to stand on that cliff and say, “I did it!”

“If I had 30 seconds to live and I had to give one piece of advice to anyone it would be this: ‘If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do you no harm’.” —African Proverb.

On a side note, the largest newspaper in South Dakota, the Argus Leader, published my mother’s story on Mother’s Day! Read it here: My Voice: Inspiration from my Mother

Born in the small African country, Burundi, Wilson Kubwayo is now an inspirational speaker and talks to diverse audiences about his theme, “Climbing the Walls of Greatness: How to live life to your fullest potential.”

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