“…give power to read and to do all that appertains to these degrees” before the Vice-Chancellor finished the statement, the congregation of 2015 graduands jumped into a frenzy tossing caps into the air. Jubilation filled the Grad Square, hugs and kisses were exchanged munificently. This was the moment we had been waiting for. The culmination of the four or five strenuous years spent on campus.
The graduation ceremony was over. My classmates and friends walked out of the square, faces beaming with joy as they captured every moment on their smartphones. From the look of things I was the only one of the 4000 plus graduates who wasn’t excited to be graduating even though I finished 2nd best in my class.
To understand my Iack of enthusiasm, I will have to tell you the whole story right from the beginning so grab a seat. When I first joined this prestigious university, I made two sets of friends. The first set consisted of the cool guys, those who were from middle-class and upper-class families. The second group was comprised of those from humble backgrounds. They were mostly from upcountry. Their sense of fashion was wanting, spoke with funny accents and were among the first generation in their families to join an institution of higher learning.
Take James for example, I met him in my freshman year, to be precise on my very first day on campus. He was crying behind a lavatory next to the main gate while his parents and brother paced around in a rather pensive mood. It was until later when we became friends that he told me about his life story.
James was born and bred in rural Central Kenya. His parents were peasant farmers. They had to sell off the only cow the family owned in order to raise cash for his shopping and tuition. Unfortunately, on the day of admission he learnt that he need to top up a few thousands to cater for accommodation in order to get admitted to the varsity. An amount his family couldn’t raise. He broke down to tears afraid that despite all the sacrifices him made to that point were all in vain and he may never pursue his undergrads.
All through his primary schooling, James would trek miles to school barefooted. The first time he acquired a shoe was in form one. His high school period was even worse. Many are days he slept hungry. He was also sent home countless times for failing to clear his school fees in time and even had to repeat a year. To survive, he had to do all kinds of odd jobs in school like milking cattle to offset his debts. Despite, all that he managed to score an A in KCSE and was called to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering.
My other group of friends had a background quite similar to mine. To attend my primary school all I had to do was to cross the road. In the evenings my mother would help me with the homework. My oldman would have me stand on the table and read a story from my favorite book ‘Ali baba and forty other stories” , that’s probably when I fell in love with words and turned out to be this amazing writer I am today..Hehe.. Let’s save that for another day.
Unlike James, I never slept hungry or lacked school fees in my entire schooling. In fact I was careless and somehow entitled. Essentially, it was until a few months ago that I really believe one could indeed have nothing to eat. All along I thought this was stuff NGO’s came up with to source for donor funds.
Moving on to high school I had a rather easy time. My parents are not wealthy but they are generous to a fault. Whenever schools opened, I was asked to take the amount I needed and leave a note on the table with a breakdown of how much money I took and how I intended to spend it. Consequently, my high school buddies and I formed a group known as ‘Cash Money Boys’. We would spend our allowances like oil-sheikhs. During school parties, when a girl asked for our contacts we would write it on 500 shillings note then give it to her. That was the standard business card.
Flash forward to campus, our parents still bankrolled every aspect of our lives. Going out on a Tuesday only to get back at 4am, sleep for an hour then wake up and prepare for a CAT scheduled for 7am that morning was the norm. Acquiring trendy stuff, partying and scoring the next pretty lady on campus was high on our agenda.
While my affluent friends spent all weekends club hopping the other friends spent their days and nights exploiting all kinds of opportunities on campus. Since they didn’t much disposable income to entertain the campus ladies they channeled most of their efforts to their small businesses .
Four years later, I noticed that most of the friends from wealthy families looked older than their real age thanks to years of binge drinking and abusing narcotics. Most of didn’t to graduate this year since they have to re-do all the courses they’ve failed.
On the other hand, the friends from humble backgrounds were doing great. They looked healthy and were in stable relationships. Their sense of fashion had improved tremendously and mother-tongue influence to their speech was minimal. What surprised me most is how they never called their parents for upkeep. I was dumbfounded when James confided in me that the only amount he ever received from his parents was Ksh. 300 on the first week. As of now, he supports his parents financially, owns two prime plots around the capital, runs a successful business and even owns a car which he bought in cash.
One night at around midnight I went out and sat on a bench all alone in the darkness to reflect on my life. What have I achieved in the four years I have been in the university? If both of my parents were to die today would I be able to maintain my current lifestyle? How many lives have I inspired?
That’s when it hit me, I was living in a bubble and if not careful I would end up working for the enterprising friends. I was a 23 year-old man who didn’t have any business or a piece of land to his name. The only car I drove belonged to my parents. Probably, the only achievement I had made so far was buying a couch. That’s the only item I acquired using money I had worked for otherwise everything else I owned was either gifted to me or purchased by the parents.
That was my turning point. I dropped my ‘cool friends’ and began spending more time with the smarter friends seeking to learn how they were able to move from being the poorest on campus to the wealthiest in less than four years. It is from these friends that I learnt the art of financial discipline and the need to care about someone else other than me.
Today, I’m officially independent! It is the greatest feeling ever even though things are tougher than before. I have been forced to cut down my expenses and save so that by the end of the year I can be able to buy a piece of land that I have been eyeing for a while. A man of my age should have his name on a title deed not just on a website.
I would like to salute all young people who are financial independent and even support their parents or siblings. You guys are my heroes! For the young men and women coming from poor families, never let your background discourage you. You too can change your life like James did if you set your mind at it.
Now to the friends from middle-class and rich families. Its time you strategize on how to become independent in the event your parents pass on and relatives make away with all property your family has amassed. I’m not going to lie to you, the first three months are going to be hectic. You may not be able to go out every night or acquire every item you fancy but with time you will adapt.
Start today, don’t wait until the bubble you live in bursts. That may be too late for you!
Written By Mark Maina