We are proud to announce the winner of our 2021 Stout Law Firm Scholarship Contest: Alexis Ihezue!
Read Alexis’s Essay
As I sat in my summer class, I analyzed the poem “As Much As You Can,” by C.P. Cavafy, a brief, but meaningful two stanzas that encourage the reader to protect the life they have, even when dealing with one that doesn’t closely mirror their expectations. I realized that in those brief, but meaningful two stanzas lay the perfect encapsulation of one of the primary values I had observed as a first-generation Nigerian-American: tenacity.
When I think of my mother, who, at the age of 16, left Nigeria with her older sisters after being born towards the end of a civil war that nearly destroyed our tribe, and how far she’s come—obtaining a higher education and supporting her four kids single-handedly for most of our lives—Cavafy’s exigency stands out more than ever. When I think of my mother, who, as one of the youngest of nine girls, went from hiding with them from the soldiers at night during a civil war to having her first child in a foreign country at the tender age of 22 while pursuing an Associate’s degree, the same one she would rely on to get a job to sustain us for many years to come—I see tenacity because she is tenacity personified. My mother is a prime example of how leadership is not a decision, but a duty. She became the leader her children needed, even when dealing with circumstances that she never wanted.
And so, as Cavafy tells us to protect our lives as much as we can, my mother decided to make us her life.
And protect us, she did.
Her subsequent selflessness has therefore been impressed upon me my entire life and has been a constant reminder that the only way out is through; the only way to stop feeling small is to get bigger, and that to overcome, we must become more—more than the unfavorable hand we’ve been dealt, and more than the pain we feel due to an unchangeable past. Everything I am—everything I learned—is because of her. Because of her, I find the meaning of family in her love.
Nurturing my own ambition under my mother’s influence has allowed me to infiltrate spaces where it is most necessary, like The Harvard Diversity Project, a collegiate pipeline for underprivileged youth, where, as a now alumna, I continue to volunteer and mentor the current students. As a free IRS-certified tax preparer on behalf of low-income residents for the VITA program, it was my dedication to others who also found themselves in similar financial situations that I did growing up in a single-parent household. When I look at the children I read with after school to boost literacy retention rates in Georgia, I see children who have potential that increases when they have access.
While I appreciate her planting the seeds necessary for my growth, I recognize that my success is only determined by constant revision and change. As much as I can, I tell myself. As much as I can.