The Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences held the 1st Annual Farquhar Writing Contest this semester. The contest was for undergraduate students who wanted to submit a 3-5 page personal essay surrounding NSU’s theme of “Truth and Power.” The prompt for the contest was: “How does the theme of Truth and Power help you understand your role as a student at NSU?” Below is the winning essay written by Kareen Barakat, freshman English major.
Education as Power
I remember as ten-year-old child sitting by my mother in the kitchen with flour all over my hands and face as I tried to roll dough as perfectly as she did. Of course my lump of mess looked nothing like her perfectly smooth and round circles, but I was proud of my work anyway. We used to sit for hours in the kitchen and anything my mother did, I mimicked.
At that age I saw her as the smartest and strongest woman in the world. In my eyes she could do no wrong. She used to look at me smiling, and tell me about her own childhood and her own mother that I never met. Those days we spent together built this will in me to be just like my mother.
I remember about two years later, my first year in middle school, the girls at the lunch table all discussed what they wanted to do with their future. Out of a group of nine or ten girls, every single one stated which college she would like to attend. When it was finally my turn I declared that I wanted to be a stay at home mom, just like my own mother.
The girls gave me a blank stare. I remember one even chuckled at what I said. Not until that moment did I realize my ambition was not the norm. In fact, it was even looked down upon.
I went home that day completely perplexed. I shuffled into the kitchen, threw my books and bags on the floor, all the while recounting what happened to me at lunch that day. My mother stayed quiet and looked at me with pursed lips.
“Kareen,” she told me, “Of course you are going to college. That is a privilege. You should want to go to college, I always wished I did.”
In my mind I was still totally opposed to the idea, but I agreed just to appease her.
As I transitioned into high school, it almost seemed like the world was crashing around me. I do not say this because something abrupt or tragic happened, but because I suddenly came to the realization that not everything was as perfect as I once believed. The issues that were always present finally hit me when my parents got a divorce my freshman year of high school.
Among many personal issues, the one of most significance was the fact that my mom no longer could depend on my father’s income and she had no form of higher education. Jobs you could get with a high school diploma did not feed three children. Unfortunately, child support does not last forever. My mother’s role in the household changed quickly because she became a student just like me and my siblings, while also acting as the nurturing mother we always had.
I watched my mother stay up late trying to remember the things she learned so long ago for her new college-level classes. Many people did not believe she would be able to juggle education and maintaining a household. Her own sisters used to call her and tell her to stop wasting her time in difficult courses and encouraged her to do something quick that would make her money.
She ignored them and continued on her goal to become a nurse. I believed she could do it. Just like when I used to watch her roll dough in my childhood, I would sit near her in the same way watching and helping her study. I spent long nights helping her.
Meanwhile, in the daytime I attended a prestigious, college preparatory private school. Everything about that atmosphere tried to compel students to go to college. First of all, we were told from our freshman year that we could not graduate if we did not get accepted to a college. That meant we had to think about GPA and SAT all throughout high school.
Subsequently, the students were competitive against each other. Everyone wanted to get into the best schools with the most scholarship money, even if it meant competing against your best friend. Teachers and counselors all assumed students would go to college, and always spoke to us accordingly.
One could say that my future was decided for me, but that is not true. If I really did not want to go to college I could have easily avoided it. But in my heart I truly wanted to get a degree, and nothing helped me decide that more than my mother’s struggle.
I knew she was having a hard time in college. She always told me her brain was rusty and needed to try and catch up before she could catch on to things. But somehow, she seemed happier than I ever knew her. She spoke excitedly about her professors and classmates, and for some reason began to understand our school experiences better.
She kept her thick textbooks with her, always propped up in front of her so she could study and still watch “American Idol” with us. Even though I was happy for her, I did not understand how someone could be so excited about school. That is, not until I began college as well.
Something about this new atmosphere almost inspired me to exert myself. Finally I understood how my mother felt. She was certainly excited, but especially because she felt more powerful. For once I felt like I had control over my own life. I did not have teachers hovering over me and forcing me to think like they did. I got to choose my own area of study and actually enjoy what I was doing.
More than ever, I could relate to my mother. Even though she changed so much within the last four or five years of my life, it brought us even closer together. We understand each other on a different level because we both understand the power we have gained through our education.
Today my mother is still working towards her degree, but she is stronger than I ever remember. Just like when I was a child, I still aspire to be like her in many respects. But today she is a different person than ten years ago, and arguably an improved version of herself. I feel better as well, because I know we are both powerful women and better because of our education.