Re-telling a Failure
A True Story
on Jan 21, 2020
Okay, okay, for regular readers of this blog, I know you are already familiar with what I am about to say today. But please allow me to tell you again about a failure I had a decade ago so as to put my next story in context.
Back in January 2002 after I learnt I had been accepted at Starehe Boys' Centre for my high school education, I informed one of my neighbour's sons we used to call Divah about it when I met him on my way home from my hometown of Kiserian. Divah proceeded to engage me in a conversation about how learning at Starehe would improve my chances of getting admitted into such highly esteemed universities as Harvard. I found his conversation somewhat inspiring.
Despite that inspiring conversation I had with Divah in 2002, I never gave much thought about pursuing my university education overseas in my first three years at Starehe. Instead, I focused my attention on doing well in academics. But when I got into Form Four in 2005, I began to consider flying overseas for further studies. So I attended two talks we had at school that year.
The first talk was by an alumnus of Harvard University who praised our high school curriculum for being rigorous. I asked him during the talk the difference between MIT and Harvard. He told us that those are two completely different schools in the state of Massachusetts, something I knew, which makes me wonder why I raised the question.
The other talk I attended at Starehe in 2005 was one conducted by representatives of several American colleges, including St. Lawrence University. I can't recollect what the representatives said. All I remember was how happy and clear-headed I felt as I walked to my dormitory after the talk. Theirs must have been an enlightening and inspiring talk for it to have made me happy and clear-headed. For some reason though, I didn't apply to any of the American colleges the representatives had come to tell us about.
It was not until I was in Starehe Institute in 2006 that I began to take my desire to study abroad seriously. That desire led me to apply to a Canadian university where I was accepted but was unable to report simply because my family couldn't afford airfare to Canada, let alone tuition and accommodation fees. While searching for scholarships on the internet that could help me cover my fees in the Canadian university, I noted how most of the scholarships I came across were only open to American citizens. Eventually, I gave up my plans of matriculating at the university.
Around that time I gave up matriculating at the Canadian university, I started hearing and reading about top American colleges that meet the full financial need of admitted students. A former schoolmate of mine at Starehe named Joseph Mugisha, who had been accepted at MIT that year, was among the first guys to direct my attention to top American colleges when he came to Starehe to tell us about his success in being accepted by several top-flight colleges in America.
What I heard and read about top American colleges made me want to apply to them for admission. And when I told my father about my desire to apply to top American colleges, he encouraged me to do so - citing that I was a person favoured by luck because I had made it to Starehe when nobody expected me to and went on to score an 'A' in KCSE exams.
Encouraged by my father, I went ahead and applied to four top American colleges, including MIT. I put in a lot of effort in crafting what I thought was a strong application to each of the four colleges. And after I submitted the applications, I was sure I would be accepted into them. I recall vividly of me telling a schoolmate of mine in Starehe Institute that getting into Starehe was much harder than getting into MIT. Do you know why I thought so?
Well, back in January 2002 during my first days at Starehe, a priest in the school called Joseph Carriere beseeched us first-formers to be grateful that we were among about 200 pupils who had made it to Starehe in an applicant pool of over 18,000 candidates. And then in 2006 when I was applying to MIT, I got to know that I was in a pool of about 13,000 applicants, from which about 1,500 would be admitted. Hence why I thought getting into Starehe was a lot harder than getting into MIT.
How mistaken I was! Come March 2007, I was heartbroken to receive a rejection letter from MIT. The following day after receiving the letter, I spent much time in a cyber cafe where I sent an email of complaint to MIT that it had been unfair for me to be rejected because I had completed the entire application process all by myself while other applicants had been assisted by professionals. My complaint fell on deaf ears as I can't recall receiving a reply to the email.
A week or so after receiving the rejection letter from MIT in March 2007, I began to cool down as I hang on to hopes that I could get into any of the three remaining colleges where I had applied for admission. But alas! They also didn't accept me.
Having been rejected by all the four colleges, I had no choice but to enrol in May 2007 at a local university called JKUAT where I had been admitted to pursue a BSc. degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering. But guess what! Applying to top American colleges the previous year had aroused in me a burning desire to study in the United States. I really craved to school with students of other races, under a renowned faculty. That desire is what led me to apply again to top American colleges when I was a first-year student at JKUAT. Sadly, I was again not accepted into any of the colleges.
I am sure I had the brainpower to successfully complete the engineering course I enrolled at JKUAT to pursue, but my burning desire to study in America kept me from giving the engineering course the attention it deserved. Little wonder that I failed one subject in the engineering course during my first year. And when I moved to second year, I went astray by not attending classes at the university so that I could fully concentrate on applying to American colleges for the third time. I wasn't accepted in my third time of applying either.
In my next story on this blog, God willing, I will tell you why I think it was good that I didn't study in America. So stay tuned to this blog. Adieu!
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on a failure I have re-told, you might also enjoy another one I wrote some time back on "My First Major Setback". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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How I Overcame the Odds
A True Story
on Jan 11, 2020
At the risk of appearing stuck in my past successes, allow me - my dear reader - to tell you today on how I overcame odds stacked against me. And if I become boring, stop me.
Back in the '90s when I was in primary school, I was sometimes derided as dull and dumb for performing averagely in school. Like when I was in Standard Five or Six, one of my brothers said to another in Kikuyu as I listened, "I wonder how Thuita will pass his KCPE exams."
Perhaps as a result of that criticism of the way dull and dumb I was, I worked hard to improve my lot by reading books. But my efforts were never fully reflected in school because I continued scoring average marks. It's because of my average performance that my parents were reluctant to transfer me to Kunoni Educational Centre, the private primary school I mentioned in my previous story on this blog.
And when my parents eventually changed their minds and took me to Kunoni, I continued performing averagely in spite of doing much reading. As a matter of fact, I never managed to score past the 396 mark in my Standard Eight tests. Well, my scores - which ranged mostly in the 370s and 380s - weren't that mediocre; but again, they weren't good enough to get me into such a prestigious high school as Starehe Boys' Centre where I had applied for admission.
The impressive thing about me in those days was the way I kept aiming high in the face of unpromising marks in my Standard Eight tests. Imagine I sat for my KCPE exams in November 2001 with the aim of emerging top in the country. I was that ambitious.
But alas! When the KCPE results were released in late December of that year, my name wasn't mentioned in the radio in the list of top pupils in the country. The following morning, I went to my hometown of Kiserian and bought a newspaper - hoping against hope that I would appear in the dailies because they published a longer list of pupils than those mentioned in the radio. Sadly, my name wasn't in the newspaper either.
I can still recall how crestfallen I felt when I found my name missing in the newspaper that December morning in 2001. With the newspaper in my hand, I trudged towards Mum's grocery shop thinking of which high school I would attend now that it seemed I couldn't make it to Starehe. And when I reached the grocery shop, I handed the newspaper over to Mum without telling her my name wasn't in it.
Mum took the newspaper and went through the list of top pupils as she said to someone in Kikuyu, "My son Thuita can't be listed here. He wasn't such a bright pupil in school." And for sure, I wasn't in the newspaper.
A day or two later, my friend Francis Kariuki and I were having a conversation with another shopkeeper in Kiserian when Francis informed the shopkeeper that I had sat for that year's KCPE exams. I don't know what the shopkeeper saw in me because he was quick to comment that there was no way I could be a top performer in the exams.
But then, the unexpected happened. After I went to fetch for my KCPE results at Kunoni, I was delighted to find that I had scored 421 marks. Hurray, I had aced the KCPE exams that one of my brothers had predicted I would fail! It turned out that I had missed appearing in the newspapers by only a few marks. But what mattered was that my score in KCPE was good enough to land me in Starehe Boys' Centre.
Most of those who knew me well were surprised to hear that I had made it to Starehe. Like Uncle Ndonga, who used to stay with us at home in the '90s, relayed news to me that he was taken aback by my success in KCPE exams. Then as I was preparing to report to Starehe, my Mum took me to the shop of Uncle Gibson Mwangi where she engaged him in a conversation on how my admission to Starehe was a miracle.
You know what? When I enrolled at Starehe in January 2002, I again found myself struggling in academics. I ended up among the last in my class in my first term at the school, which shouldn't have been that shocking, bearing in mind that I was competing with the brightest boys in the country. But back then, I felt embarrassed to be among the last in my class; I had never sank that low in academic rankings ever since I started schooling in 1993.
To improve in academics, I studied diligently when we broke for holidays after that disappointing first term at Starehe. But just like it was the case when I was in primary school, I only managed to improve marginally in my subsequent terms in Form 1. News must have spread through the grapevine in Starehe that I wasn't faring well in class because a housemate of mine called James said to me one time when we were in Form 1, "I hear you are always among the last in your class..."
Despite my disappointing academic record in Form 1, I kept studying diligently and aiming high. My goal in every exam we sat for in high school was to emerge top. Though I didn't realize that goal in my entire high school career, at least it helped me improve academically to the point of scoring an 'A' in the 2005 KCSE exams. And therein lies an important lesson: that if we aim high and fail to meet our target, we wind up at a far much better level than we would be if we hadn't aimed high.
Several of my family members and relatives expressed to me their pride in seeing my name in the newspapers in the list of top 100 students in Nairobi Province in the 2005 KCSE results. Like my younger brother Symo, who was in high school then, sent me an email congratulating me for my excellent grades in KCSE. Then Uncle Ndonga showed his son my name in the newspapers while telling him of how far I had come from.
And then a few years later in 2008 when my younger brother Symo was preparing for his KCSE exams, my father asked me what advice I would give Symo on how to excel in the exams. I knew just what to say, so I told my father in Kikuyu, "Let him strive to enjoy his studies." And that was all I said.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on how I overcame the odds, you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometimes back on "Developing Mental Clarity". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.