Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.


Courageous women

Q: It's official: A new study concludes that experiencing a few "adverse life events," such as a natural disaster or losing a job, really does make you stronger in the long run. People who sail through and those who face more frequent adversity usually don't fare as well. The researcher says ''people are more resilient than we think." Are setbacks actually a key to success? Have you ever faced major adversity that you weren't able to overcome?

One young woman saw her mother shot to death. Another knows what it's like to be homeless and hungry. Another lost all of her possessions in a house fire. Another fled from the oppressive regime in Rwanda. Yet another copes with a severe case of cerebral palsy that keeps her in a wheelchair.

These are my students at Trinity, and many others are like them, courageous women who have faced genuine adversity. Their stories are a triumph of resilience in the face of conditions that many people would find overwhelming.

Some Trinity students come from the toughest parts of the District of Columbia. Some are refugees from wars and oppression abroad. They come to Trinity because they have heard that we are a university that is especially supportive of women's empowerment.

They like that idea, and want it for themselves. They are open about their challenges, prior educational deficiencies, life circumstances. I am constantly amazed by their determination to succeed in spite of so many odds.

How can an 18-year-old teenage mom, abandoned by her own mother and living on the margin, find a way to write a Philosophy paper, complete a Biology experiment, do the reading for her Sociology class and pull at least a B in her latest Math test -- today?

Here's how: First, she has a developed a personal philosophy of self-determination. She really believes that she can succeed. Believing that you can be successful in spite of the challenges lined up against you is essential in the quest for success.

Second, the student has made an affirmative choice to find people who can help her make the changes that will ensure success. That's why she enrolled in college. Making a break with the status quo in your life, doing something that requires an entirely different daily routine, and doing it with people who can guide and encourage you are all part of the triumph over adversity.

Third, my students do not let setbacks turn into backsliding. Sure, some young women facing incredibly hard personal, financial and academic circumstances sometimes miss class, fail tests, and even have to take a semester off to go to work or care for illness of siblings or parents or themselves. But they come back.

Trinity has a large program for students who return to school in their late 20s and 30s and 40s, and each year we welcome back scores of students who had to interrupt their progress through college, but they never gave up. They are still determined to succeed, and graduation day is the happiest moment of their lives.

Compared to the stories of my students, I have to say that I've never really suffered adversity. Sure, I've had setbacks, disappointments and moments when I've had to change plans because of roadblocks. Learning to cope with life's difficult moments is simply part of maturity.

But conquering major adversity requires even more than maturity. Each day I see students whose fortitude in the face of almost unimaginable hardship makes me feel very humble and fortunate to know them. Their hard-won success is simply magnificent to see in each passing grade, each academic year moving closer to their goal of a college degree.

By Patricia McGuire  |  November 15, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Success and adversity Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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My apologies,
I mean she is studying a degree in SPECIAL EDUCATION at Trinity University under the Government of Rwanda's Presidential Scholarship

Posted by: jmakara6 | November 15, 2010 5:33 PM
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My apologies, I meant Special Education at Trinity University



Posted by: jmakara6 | November 15, 2010 5:26 PM
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Dear Patricia,
I know what you are talking about coz I am also from Rwanda and I am aware of difficulties facing my colleagues in the Diaspora.
I believe when you are talking about oppresive regime in Rwanda, you are referring to the one that committed the 1994 Tutsi genocide.
The current government of Rwanda has invested heavily in education. Currently there are about 397 students in USA sponsored by the Government of Rwanda and there is one student who is studying Special Educatio benefiting from this program.
Otherwise I agree with you learning how to cope with life's difficult moments is the real maturity.


Posted by: jmakara6 | November 15, 2010 5:24 PM
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