Occasionally, children return home to find out that their parents are late getting home from work. Norma Degante, still at a young age, returned home one day to find out that her parents weren’t just late, but imprisoned. Imagine her fear, isolation, and desperation.
Children remember their gleeful shrieks that fill parks and playgrounds as they weave in and out of the tall grass. Djino Timotis can still remember the terrified screams of his country— of children, of adults, of elders— that filled the air as he weaved between shaking grounds during the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Imagine his fear, isolation, and desperation.
While the heart-pounding fear in their ears may subside, Norma and Djino’s memories do not. It is a part of who they are, always theirs to relive and remember. Yet, they do not let their hardships isolate them from opportunity. Norma and Djino have done the best they can to come to terms with what happened. Due to their commitment to excellence and hardwork in academics and the community, the two are now recipients of the Children’s Defense Fund - New York’s Beat the Odds New York Scholarship— making college no longer a distant possibility, but a reality. Djino will be at the Borough of Manhattan Community College while Norma will be at the Queens College in New York City as freshmen this year. Now, just like any other student in America during this back to school season, both share in the same nervousness of starting a new chapter in their lives—college as a first generation student.
The well-rounded financial, academic, and social support that the Children’s Defense Fund - New York’s Beat the Odds Scholarship offers as a pipeline to college — a gateway itself to a better life of opportunity — encourages students with extenuating circumstances, such as Norma and Djino, to do better. To these students, the benefits of CDF-NY’s scholarships and programs are proof that the ability to transform adversity to advantage holds value in today’s society.
This is certainly an ability that Norma and Djino will continue to use in their postsecondary careers. As first-generation-to college students, their fight certainly does not stop at the college gates. Out of 100 high school graduates, only 47% of first-generation-to-college students will enroll in college according to a study released by the Pell Institute — a statistic that both students were able to overcome. However, from this 47%, only 27% will go on to earn a college degree.
For First Gen students, the decision to enroll in college is a minority one. But the subsequent decision to fight for their college degree seems to be even more so. On behalf of students everywhere, I am grateful for the opportunity to interview Norma and Djino on how they continue to beat the odds and fight the fight.
When asked what the phrase “beat the odds” means to her, Norma said, “ To me, ‘Beat the Odds,’ means being able to survive anything that life throws at me. I have been through rough times and survived them while not giving up on myself and on my loved ones.”
She applies the same foundations of perseverance and grit to her education, replying “I am aware now that I can go beyond in getting an education, no matter what my income may be. I like to take my education seriously as I realize it is not something everyone can have, unfortunately.”
Norma credits the Beat the Odds Scholarship with increasing her of knowledge about the college experience by providing insight on what to expect. Armed with fresh confidence, she says, “I feel prepared for college. I feel like I am not the only one who is beating the odds.”
Djino, on other hand, does not feel ready for college. However, this lack of readiness is an advantage to him because he views challenges as an opportunity to work harder.
Djino does not leave out the efforts of CDF-NY when he talks of this empowering attitude. He says, “beating the odds means the beating your walls. CDF-NY allowed us to see beyond our walls that kept us trapped and prevented us from breaking out and seeing our own value.”
To him, the value he took possession of was his education for Djino elaborates, “education is the only tool that cannot be destroyed by any blackhearted experience that someone can face. It is valuable to me because it is the only thing that I have valuable enough to offer to this world.”
His advice to students is to be proactive in beating the odds and beating your obstacles. “I built my support system from not being scared to ask. I show that I am searching, not just sitting and waiting for the goods.”
The impact of CDF-NY does not stop at Norma and Djino or the Beat the Odds Scholarship. The organization itself is committed to lessening the obstacles and adversities for under-resourced children everywhere. First Gen student Amarantha Dyl, now an adult entering Ithaca College, was one of these children.
As a First Gen student, one obstacle she continually faces is the lack of understanding on her parents’ part with regards to how the college process operates, which often leads to conflicts between all parties. However, she says her mom is always willing to listen and to understand her.
Her education has taught her that the act of learning goes beyond the classroom walls to everyday life lessons that we all go through.
In fact, Amarantha’s ability to beat the odds stems from a quote she heard outside of the classroom, “God only gives his strongest soldiers the hardest obstacles because he knows that they can handle it.” She says, “the phrase ‘beating the odds’ means that I am strong. What I value most about this phrase is that, despite the odds put against me, especially as a woman and a woman of color to be exact, it won’t be easy but when I make it, I will be able to say ‘I beat the odds!’”
Often, it is easy to forgo the statistics as merely numbers on a page. However, we must not forget that every number is tied a student somewhere, whether it be ones we know like Amarantha, Norma, and Djino or ones we have yet to be acquainted with. Every change to a statistic is a change to a child somewhere. We thank our friends at the Children’s Defense Fund - New York and students everywhere on their continuing efforts to show that every child has a place in education and an opportunity to succeed.
GlobalMindED is proud to share these stories of CDF-NY students to highlight our shared mission of transforming adversity to advantage. Join us at the 2018 GlobalMindED Conference June 9-11 and meet leaders such as Norma Degante, Djino Timotis, and Amarantha Dyl who are paving the way for a bright future for all of us. Take the opportunity to contribute to this movement and submit your idea to our Call for Proposals. Bring a positive impact to the next generation and discover other ways to get involved!