On the 10th of June 2015 I graduated for the second time around. I felt very proud of myself for making it that far. It was that constant voice that dwelt inside me which constantly reminded me “You can do it Lele, others did it before you” that made me go for it. Growing up all I could hear about in the news were these words from the government ” We need more and more black scientists in South Africa”. I took those words seriously and before I knew it I was already deep in the science field. Mind you I had never even done pure science in high school. I did Life Sciences/ Biology and I happened to be a Maths boffin and also did well in Geography and that was good enough to grant me space in university for a science degree.
You see the one thing that the government never highlighted in its request for “Black Scientists” was how difficult it would be to pass even the dumbest modules in science (no offence). I matriculated at the age of 16 so I took a long deserved gap year touring Central and South America and also learning some Spanish and Portuguese in the process. The main reason I took that gap year was because my dad thought I was too young to cope with varsity at 17. I remember the one degree I wanted to take was pure mathematics or applied mathematics. I loved it so so much and I could see myself coming up with my own formulas in the future. I never imagined myself in any other field besides that. The gap year was the best thing to ever happen to me. During that year I realised my interest in those National Geographics documentaries that were about the formation of the Earth and how the solar system functioned and what happens beneath the crust. I would watch so attentively intrigued by that sexy lady’s voice who explained this amazing stuff with so much passion.
I began to wonder what the study was called, I did some research and came up with Astronomy but, I had been reading about Astronomy in the 9th grade and I knew that the Earth processes were not a part of this magnificent study. I did further research and realised my one true calling, Geology!!! I contacted my dad who was continents away and told him I knew exactly what I was going to Study when I returned from my tour. Being as supportive as he is he started searching for the best institutions in SA that offer such. I remember choosing the University of Stellenbosch and I went through the entire application process. But my parents never sent my application documents through. I was so depressed and they explained to me that my basic knowledge of Afrikaans was not good enough to enable me to thrive fully at this institution. I was so determined about pushing boundaries and throwing myself to the very deep end, so I persisted.
I was convincing my parents that I already knew Afrikaans well enough that the Afrikaners could not even dare to gossip about me. I was in a boarding school from the 7th grade up until the 9th grade and the Afrikaans training I got was magnificent. I also tried to convince them by explaining that it only took me 3 months to understand Spanish and that I was already fluent in it where I was staying in Latino America. They were still skeptic about the idea. I really understood where they were coming from. They are still baring scars of the Apartheid and they would also hear on the news about racism and how some lectures were given in Afrikaans. They were of opinion that I would fail dismally or miss the exam scope that was given to the special kids in Afrikaans. To be honest with you , racism was the last thing on my mind. I knew very well that there were other black students at this university so I wouldn’t be the first one.
We began to do research about the highest performing Geology institutions and UKZN and UJ was one of them. I wanted to go to UJ because I never wanted to live at home. This is because we had no domestic helper at home, so I knew very well that at times I would have to cook before I study. I knew I would always hear the sound of the television while trying to study like I would during my matric year. I knew it was best to leave home and go far far away and learn to thrive on my own. I applied in both places I posted my forms all the way home in SA . The dumbest thing I did was to send them home, and not directly to these universities. Again my parents did not send the UJ application because Johannesburg was far away from Durban. I got accepted at UKZN. I remember I returned in February from my tour and I had 2 days to get ready for varsity.
I enrolled for Life and Earth Sciences and boy did the government not warn me of what was to come. The first year in UKZN is structured so everyone does the same thing. You could only get to some of your majors in the second year. I remember doing Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Earth Science, Mathematics, Statistics and Geography and boy did I burn! I was struggling so much that the only time I ever smiled was in Earth Science, Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science and in Geography but, even then my performance was so mediocre. The June exam came and I never even made it to the Physics exam. I made it into the chemistry exam and I got my first ever SUPP/Supplementary exam in chemistry. I hated science with all my heart at this time, I hated titrations and my reactions never even reached the end-point. Even when I would get the colour right my calculations would still be off. I would call home crying I was so terrified of failure. My greatest nightmare was really starting to happen.I was convinced I would be one of those people who go to university and fail for 8 years and drop-out and get pregnant and chase after rich men who did things right.
I knew very well I had failed that supp and it felt like the end of the world. For some miracle my class had done so badly in chemistry that they could not make us wait for the following year to repeat it . So in the 2nd semester we had the chance to repeat chemistry. This was the first time that such had been done. I remember feeling so hopeful and inspired. I began to find my feet, my failure was not even about partying or drinking alcohol; I was simply not coping with the pure science I was doing. But then again I could not imagine having to de-register and take the common degrees that people pass in their sleep. So I worked my butt off and I passed everything including chemistry (The Loch Ness “MONSTER” of Modern Era), Much respect to all the chemists out there!!!.
I had to transfer for my second year to another UKZN campus which happens to be right by my neighborhood. I then decided to apply at UJ instead and I got accepted. I was NEVER going to live at home and be dropped off daily at varsity by my dad. I needed my freedom and independence and in an African household you are a child until you die . I got credited for all the modules I had passed at UKZN, well everything besides physics. I never even needed the physics to start off with so I have no idea why I attempted doing it. I mean Albert Einstein whose true passion was Physics failed Geography and my true passion on the other end was Geography and Geology and I failed Physics. So do cut me some slack :). Maybe ground breaking research can conducted on the how the Physics brain capacity affects the Geography brain capacity and vice versa.
I then began my UJ journey and failing was no longer a part of my jargon. I was majoring in both Geology and Geography and life began to make sense again. Until my third year Geology showed me proper “Veld Fires” that I never even knew existed. I got a supp once again and even to this day I strongly believe that has got to be the toughest paper ever set on Earth. I would write and look around to see if others were writing or jammed as I was. I would even laugh alone because crying was not even an option. We were all doomed and it was obvious and somehow it felt good to know “we are in this together”. I mean I am human so knowing I was not alone gave me hope. Since my Geography was a year ahead of the Geology I had transferred to UJ for I had already been accepted for my honours in Geography. My supp results came out and I wanted to die when I saw the 39% from HELL.
That time my semester mark was 65%. It read so nice and bold that I “FAILED”. I needed a hole to bury myself and not even return to planet Earth,perhaps be resurrected in MARS or Jupiter. I just needed 1% Lord why why why?… How do I add another year for just 1% . And when you add the 65 and the 39 it makes a pass. I then consulted and pleaded for the 1 % and an Angel whose name cannot be mentioned saved my butt. His exact words were ” This is a borderline scenario, we are not allowed to give such marks I should have double checked because you have passed”. He continued to ask why I needed to pass so badly. I said : ” Sir I have been accepted into honours already and my life depends on it”. He smiled and said :” You have passed”. I celebrated and returned in 2014 for my honours degree. It was so tough and only 13 of us made it in out of a third year class of 99 if memory serves me right. This time around I was a changed person, my reasoning was a lot more mature.
I had aimed for a cum laude but I only got 2 distinctions out of 5 including my minor dissertation . Well my overall average was the best I have ever performed and I missed my target by 5 %. But you know what it is all well with my soul. Here I am doing my masters and yes the target is a cum laude for that :). Moral of the story you have to fall to rise up again. Your destiny might be similar to mine so if you do fail one module , come back and kick it in the butt the second time around and become the Eistein of your field. Don’t do it for anyone else but yourself. African child rise above the struggle , don’t even put money as an excuse. Apply and the funding shall sort itself out. You only hear about the benefits once you are part of the university system but from outside the the R300 000 seems impossible. I owe my success to my parents who gave up their happiness and hobbies to make sure I got these degrees.
African parent support you kids, any degree is relevant. Don’t deny them the music and the arts for the sake of science and accounting for example. African child don’t waste your parents’ money, don’t let their investments go to waste. Rich African child don’t be lazy. The wealth is temporary if you are not innovative enough. Learn from the tricks of your parents and do it better than they ever did. You argue that they are in business but how about you get that MBA and manage the family business wisely. You also argue that entrepreneurs don’t have to study, Well did you know they wake up at 4 am to educate themselves and devise new ideas. They sleep later than you do doing online courses and even getting coached by wealth and life coaches coaches. If your only definition of education is about going to university then you have missed the plot. Education is everywhere go after it . Education is important and the thinking capacity of any educated being is a lot more difference so rise above it all.