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Tips On How to Leave a Legacy

This is my younger brother Symo, who I shall mention in the story of mine below, back in the late '90s when he was in his pre-teen years. He now works for KPMG as an audit associate.


Fresh concrete has a way of attracting young "artists" who like to leave their mark for posterity. Like I recall back in the year 2001 when a bedroom I shared with my brothers was re-carpeted, my younger brother Symo [pictured above] scribbled his full name "Simon Noru" on the laid out cement floor when he came back from school only to discover it was still fresh.

This desire to leave a mark for posterity seems to be present in most people because other folks do it in other ways. Some scribble their names on walls of public buildings in schools, hospitals and other institutions. Like if you visit a public toilet here in Kenya, you might see a writing on a urinal reading "Kamau was here". I am sure that must also be the case in America and other developed parts of the world.

Then there are those in power, especially here in Africa, who love naming prominent places and streets after themselves. They also love having plaques bearing their names erected in their honour. Like if you visit the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi here in Kenya, you will find one that reads:
"THIS PLAQUE COMMEMORATES THE OFFICIAL OPENING OF NYAYO NATIONAL STADIUM BY H.E. HON. DANIEL T. ARAP MOI, C.G.H., M.P., PRESIDENT AND COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE REPUBLIC OF KENYA ON THE 22ND DECEMBER 1983."
And coming to think of it, if young kids like my younger brother Symo can scribble their names on fresh concrete when they are too young to understand life in detail, then this desire to leave a mark for posterity seems to be wired in every human by God. Or how else can you explain that everyone from children to presidents do it all the time?

Yes, we all wish to be remembered after we die. That's what drives young kids, like Symo did, to scribble their names on fresh concrete while they are in their pre-teen years. And that's also what drives presidents, like Daniel T. Arap Moi did, to have plaques erected in their honour.

So because everyone wishes to be remembered after they die, I thought today of a few ways in which each of us can leave a legacy. Let me share them with you, my dear reader, because I am sure as death that you too would wish to leave a mark for posterity.

The first way I will suggest is by capitalizing on your wealth if you are a rich person. Like you can start a scholarship fund and name it after yourself like Cecil Rhodes who started the coveted Rhodes Scholarship that is awarded every year to students across the world to study a Masters' degree at Oxford University. Or you can offer to help a school fund-raising money to construct a library and recommend the library be named in your honour.

Once you become rich, I think leaving such kind of legacy by capitalizing on your wealth is one of the easiest ways to leave a mark for posterity because money talks. But since not many of us have the ability to become rich, the other way of leaving a mark for posterity I can suggest for those of us who aren't rich is to capitalize on our talents.

I believe we all have talents. And talents come in a variety of packages. Like you may have a knack for reading, writing, or speaking. You may have a gift for being creative, being a fast learner, or being accepting of others. You may have organizational, music or leadership skills. You may be excellent at chess, drama, butterfly collecting or just being nice.

My suggestion to you is to identify your talent, develop it in all the ways you can and who knows, you could end up leaving a rich legacy like some of the people I will give as an example below.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, an Austrian who lived in the 1700s, became interested in music at a young age. He developed that interest into a talent and went on to compose some of the greatest classical music that is still listened today by millions across the world.

Some time last year while leafing through Tony Buzan's Age-proof Your Brain, I came across the following interesting facts on the effect of listening to the music of Mozart:
The Mozart Effect

Back in the 1990s, American psychologist Frances Rauscher made the extra-ordinary discovery that listening to Mozart's music improved people's spatial skills and mathematical reasoning. The effect was so marked it could even be demonstrated in laboratory rats negotiating mazes. Soon, Rauscher discovered that a Mozart piano sonata actually activated genes involved in nerve signalling in her lab rats.

In another study, young children given music lessons improved their IQ scores markedly over contemporaries given drama or computer lessons. The same could be true for adults. [1]
You see, Mozart left a mark for posterity by capitalizing on his talent in music. And you can see how rich a legacy he left given the enriching nature of listening to Mozart's music as the multi-million copy best-selling author Tony Buzan reports in his best-seller.

St. Paul left his mark for posterity through his writing skills by penning the epistles in the Bible that have guided millions of Christians on how to live godly. Personally, I love and adore those epistles of Paul.

Thomas Edison, who had little formal schooling, left his mark for posterity by following his passion for tinkering with things. That passion led him to invent many things such as the light bulb and the movie camera. If you didn't know, Thomas Edison is still recognized as America's greatest inventor.

Mother Teresa, who's now a saint, left her mark for posterity by capitalizing on her talent at just being nice and went on to become famous for helping the poor in Calcutta, India. She once counselled: "Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be a living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile."

There you have them, my dear reader: that is, my few tips on how you too can leave a mark for posterity. So live, laugh, love, learn and leave a legacy!

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[1] I have extracted these facts on the Mozart effect from page 33 of Age-proof Your Brain by Tony Buzan, published in 2007 by HarperThorsons.

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My First Major Setback



To tell you the truth, I never faced any major setback in the first eighteen years of my life because somehow, things almost always worked out in my favour. Like in the year 2000, I was transferred to a private primary school called Kunoni Educational Centre when I was in Standard Seven just as it had always been my wish since my immediate elder brother Paddy had been accepted there back in 1998.

Then while in Kunoni, I studied diligently to ace the final national primary school exams known as KCPE and succeeded as a result of which I was admitted at Starehe Boys' Centre just as it had always been my wish ever since I started hearing of the prestigious instutition which consistently appeared among the top high schools here in Kenya in the '90s and well into the 2000s.

At Starehe, I successfully rose from the bottom of my class in academics to score an 'A' in the mighty KCSE exams. Then after my high school years, I had an opportunity to pursue a Diploma in Information Technology at Starehe Institute where I acquired the computer programming skills I had wished to develop when I was in my final year in high school in 2005.

But then in mid-March of 2007, I experienced my first major set-back. Okay, let me tell you the full story. And I promise not to bore you.

When I was in Starehe Institute, I developed a desire to pursue my undergraduate degree abroad. It is under the influence of that desire that I turned up some time in 2006 for a conference that had been advertised in a local daily on studying in a Canadian university I wish not to mention its name.

The turnout for the conference was poor because if my memory serves me right, I don't think there were more than thirty people present. All I recall was that after the conference speaker was through with whatever stuff he was telling us about studying in the Canadian university, I approached him for a talk during which I presented to him a copy of my KCSE result slip.

And alas! He was so impressed with my KCSE results in which I had scored six 'A's and two 'A-'s that he took down my name, email address and perhaps a few other details I can't remember.

Guess what? Several weeks later, I received an email from the Canadian university congratulating me for having been accepted into it to study engineering.

I can't recollect if I was ever elated about getting admitted into the Canadian university. All I remember was how I eventually gave up with studying at the university simply because I couldn't afford the air fare, let alone the tuition and accommodation fees.

Then after that unsuccessful attempt to land an opportunity to study abroad, I started hearing and reading about top American colleges that meet the full financial needs of admitted students.. I told my father about them and he encouraged me to apply.

With my father's blessings, I researched more about the top American colleges. I then settled on applying to MIT, the world's premier institute in science, technology, engineering and math, in addition to three other colleges.

Applying to MIT was rigorous but I thought it was worth it because the institute promised to meet my full financial needs if I got accepted unlike the Canadian university I have told you about that only assessed my KCSE result slip only to disappoint me with exorbitant tuition and accommodation fees that my family couldn't afford.

As for applying to MIT, imagine I filled out several forms, submitted a high school transcript, wrote several essays, sent three recommendation letters and sat for the SAT exams which cost me Ksh. 14,700 because I sat for the SAT 1 Reasoning Test twice in addition to the SAT 2 Subject Tests.

And to further improve my chances of getting accepted into MIT, I also submitted a cassette recording of me playing the piano and a CD-copy of an educational website I had created with two of my classmates at Starehe Institute. Those two supplementary materials were not required but I must have believed then that they would make me stand out in the talented pool of students who were applying to MIT.

I submitted all those materials by the usual January 1st deadline. And then, the about three-month waiting period began.

Reflecting on my life so far, I have never experienced a longer period of bliss than I had in the first two-and-a-half months of 2007 when I was in my final months at Starehe Institute. My life was blissful during those months because the subjects I was learning at Starehe Institue were relatively easy because I had come to love computer-programming but mostly because I was filled with hope that I would eventually fly to MIT for my undergraduate degree as it was my dream.

But then came the mid-March of 2007 I have told you about. Well, MIT released its decision online in the early hours of the night of 16th of that March (Kenyan time) during which I anxiously logged into my MIT account to check whether I had been accepted. Then I became sick with disappointment on reading the following letter addressed to me:
Dear Johnny,

The Admissions Committee has completed its review of your application, and I am so sorry to tell you that we are unable to offer you admission to MIT.

Please understand that this is in no way a judgement of you as a student or as a person, since our decision has more to do with the applicant pool than anything else. Most of our applicants, who like you are among the best in the world, are not admitted because we simply do no have enough space in our entering class. This year we had almost 12,500 candidates for fewer than 1,500 offers of admission, from which will come our 1,000 freshmen. Since all of our decisions are made at one time and all available spaces have been committed, all decisions are final.

Despite what you might think, the admissions process is not an exact science. Our applicant pool is more self-selected than most, with a very high percentage of top students, virtually all of whom have distinction in demanding academic programs as well as outstanding achievements in their lives outside of the classroom. We evaluate each applicant's materials carefully and select those we judge to be the best match for our community.

I am very sorry to bring you such disappointing news when you have worked so hard. You are a terrific student, and I wish you the very best as you continue with your education.

Sincerely,

Marilee Jones.
Dean of Admissions [Massachusetts Institute of Technology].
While applying to MIT, the institute had asked me in a question on one of their application forms to tell them a nickname my friends liked calling me. I told them it was Johnny; that's why Marilee Jones addressed me as Johnny.

And despite her assurance that I was a terrific student, I felt so heartsick that I had trouble getting out of bed the following morning. It was like the institutions I had attended and the exams I had taken hadn't prepared me for that first major setback of my life.

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