How a Friend Helped Me
A True Story
on Nov 20, 2017
Peter Kariuki (yes, the young man I have mentioned in the photo above) was a schoolmate of mine at Starehe Boys' Centre but he never got to know me during our time in the school because he was three years my senior and we didn't board in the same house. He was promoted to be the school captain of Starehe Boys' Centre some time in 2003 when he was in the institute division of the school.
After completing his one-year term as school captain, he was awarded a scholarship to pursue a post high school diploma at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, United States, from where he was accepted in 2005 at the renowned Stanford University where Bill Clinton's daughter had received her Bachelor's degree a few years earlier. A lucky young man he was.
For some reasons unbeknown to me, some fellow students at Starehe hated Peter Kariuki with a passion. "Those guys are evil!" one housemate of mine told me while pointing to a team of the three most senior captains in Starehe that included Peter Kariuki.
Then when Peter Kariuki flew to Deerfield Academy, one of my classmates ruefully remarked, "Let him fly to America; he will still come back to Kenya." And he uttered that remark in a tone that suggested how intensely he loathed Peter Kariuki.
Never one to hate a person just because others are doing so, I befriended Peter Kariuki via email when I was first applying to top American Colleges that included Stanford in 2006 while I was in Starehe Institute. I however cannot remember the advice he offered me at that time. As it happened, I was rejected by all the colleges I applied for admission.
When I re-applied to the top colleges for the second time while I was a freshman at JKUAT where I was pursuing a BSc. degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering, I contacted Peter Kariuki again. This time round, I remember him advising me to be grateful that I was in JKUAT. But guess what! I never felt proud to be in JKUAT because I really wanted to study in a First-World environment where I could interact with people of other races. As it happened, I was again rejected by all the colleges I applied for admission.
And when I re-applied to top American for the third time in 2009, I decided to maximize all the help I could get from Peter Kariuki. I requested him to review my application essays. He obliged and offered me his honest assessment as well as suggestions to improve the essays.
Like in one short essay in which I wrote of how I evangelized the gospel to distressed people (that was a big lie! I have never preached the gospel to anyone), Peter Kariuki suggested I explain how evangelism enabled me to know what drives people and how people make life choices and choose ideologies to believe and live by. That subordinate clause I have displayed in green are the exact words he used. I so loved them that I copy-pasted them into the short essay.
Apart from reviewing my essays, Peter Kariuki advised me to also apply to less competitive colleges because Stanford's standards are high. Guess what again! The other colleges I applied for admission were Yale and Harvard which are as highly selective as Stanford, if not more. They all rejected me.
Grateful for the advice he had offered me freely when I applied to top American colleges in a span of four years, I continued to keep in touch with Peter Kariuki via Facebook. Like I asked him some time in early 2011 which of the schools he had attended (Starehe Boys', Deerfield Academy & Stanford University) that he had found the best. He replied that it was Starehe Boys'.
And guess what again! Some time in March 2011, I extracted from Peter Kariuki's Facebook album two photos of him taken while he was asleep in bed. I combined them with a photo editor and wrote on top of them "Kulala Tu!" Then I posted the edited photo on my Facebook wall while poking fun at Peter Kariuki as an oversleeper. Mark you, oversleeping was considered an offence during our Starehe years and captains like Peter Kariuki were charged with moving from dormitory to dormitory at dawn to apprehend oversleepers.
When Peter Kariuki learnt what I had done, he felt offended. He sent me a message warning me that it's wrong to use other people's images without their permission. Then he later on blocked me on Facebook. Since then, I have never heard from him again. I would like to let him know, if he's reading this story of mine, that I have matured up. As in, I no longer use people's images without their permission.
 "Kulala Tu!" is a Swahili statement which translates in English as "Just Sleeping Only!"
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Celebrating JKUAT: Kenya's MIT
A True Story
on Jul 5, 2017
At the time I was matriculating at JKUAT in May 2007 to pursue a degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering, I also landed a part-time job to teach piano to a daughter of an affluent couple who lived in a leafy suburb of Nairobi. I didn't perform well in the job because I was young and inexperienced but some remarks I heard while teaching there impressed me.
"This young man is an engineering student at JKUAT.," remarked the daughter's mother while talking of me to a lady with whom she was having tea.
"JKUAT!" the lady exclaimed, "That's a university for brilliant guys unlike XY University [name withheld] which is for jokers."
That lady must have been right in saying JKUAT is for brilliant guys given the experiences I had at the university. Okay, let me narrate the story.
I enrolled at JKUAT with the intention of transferring to MIT in my second year. But then, I scored the following grades in my first semester at JKUAT:
|Workshop Processes and Practice I||B|
|Workshop Practice II||C|
Having scored all A's in my high school KCSE exams, I became disturbed by those JKUAT first semester grades, especially the D in Chemistry. And I think that D was well-deserved given the trouble I had in understanding the subject which we were taught by an abrasive and commanding lecturer named Oyaro. I remember Oyaro teaching us a structure of the atom that was radically different from the simple one I had learnt in high school. For me, understanding the structure of the atom that Oyaro taught us felt as though I was learning Greek.
Those first semester results were a rude awakening that I wasn't as brilliant as I had perceived myself. And they forced me to change my plans of applying to MIT as a transfer student and instead chose to re-apply as a freshman.
My second semester results at JKUAT were even worse because I flunked a subject called Material Science. And I am thinking I failed in the subject because its comprehension required that I had understood the structure of the atom that Oyaro had taught us the previous semester. Given the trouble with which I have said I had in understanding Chemistry, little wonder that I failed Material Science again when the university asked me to repeat the exam - a further proof that JKUAT is for brilliant guys. See?
Those results notwithstanding, I treasure the experiences I had during my two-year stint at JKUAT. First, I had the opportunity to study with seven former students of Alliance High School in the Eletronics & Computer Engineering Class of '11. I had read that Alliance sent a larger number of students to top American colleges than any other high school in Kenya did, which I still think is the case. That's why I felt honoured to school side-by-side with those seven former students of Alliance High School.
Secondly, I loved JKUAT because it was close to such big urban areas as Thika and Nairobi yet it was pristine enough to offer a rural environment that made me stay in touch with nature. I enjoyed roaming in JKUAT's bucolic fields to read and reflect.
Lastly, I came to love JKUAT hospital, a spacious well-protected one-storey building, where I was admitted twice after I went bonkers due to the hard times I underwent while trying to cope with poor grades in class, failure to get accepted at MIT among other issues. So much did I love JKUAT hospital because of its cleanliness and the friendliness of its staff that later on, I would sometimes wish I could get sick again so that I could get admitted back to the hospital where I had been looked after like an infant baby.
Before I end this story, allow me to mention two shortcomings I observed at JKUAT which put the university reputation at stake. Its main campus neighbouring communities have dusty roads as well as shanty houses infested with petty thieves. A lot of dust stirred by vehicles cruising in those dusty roads usually ends up in JKUAT. And the petty thieves sometimes get into the university to pilfer such stuff as garments on clothes lines.
Given an opportunity to meet the current JKUAT vice-chancellor, I would advise her to partner with the university's neighbouring communities (like the way Yale University does with New Haven) to seek solutions for those two shortcomings because the university's reputation is inextricably intertwined with the wellness of its neighbouring communities. That's all I am saying.