It’s not every day you get to meet your hero. For students at Holy Trinity High School, that day came on Thursday, January 25 when author Mawi Asgedom walked through the door.
This fall, Holy Trinity students across all four grade levels joined together to read Mawi’s biography, Of Beetles and Angels, a remarkable true story of a young boy's journey from civil war in east Africa to a refugee camp in Sudan, to a childhood on welfare in the affluent Chicago suburb of Wheaton, and eventually to a full-tuition scholarship at Harvard University, from which he graduated with top honors and gave the commencement address at his graduation in 1999.
Since graduating from Harvard, Mawi has dedicated himself to uplifting teenagers. Oprah Winfrey named her interview of Mr. Asgedom as one of her 20 Unforgettable Moments in October 2005.
Now, his visit to Holy Trinity will be an unforgettable moment for many of our students. Mawi began his visit by meeting with a small group of 12 students, including Jade Adomako, the student who recommended the book to our English department. “His book meant the world to me. I read it at a time when I was going through some personal struggles, and his story pushed me through those difficult times. Meeting him in person really woke me up again and made me realize my amazing potential, and that I have to keep pushing to succeed.”
"Meeting with Mr. Asgedom was an experience I’ll keep with me forever," says student Emily Ramirez '18, "because I was meeting an individual who understands how difficult and important it is to persevere for our parents. Coming from a family of immigrants, having these different traditions, it’s hard to assimilate into the two different cultures. I deal with this on a daily basis and it was nice to hear from an adult who had gone through it and see how it’s not always a negative thing. He taught me to not be afraid of my roots, but learn to love and represent my roots."
Following the small group meeting, Mawi spoke to the entire student body for a special assembly. His message centered on living a life of intentionality and perseverance. In particular, he challenged Holy Trinity as a school community to “have a heart that sees people. Treat all people, even the most unsightly beetles, as though they were angels sent from heaven. That should be an intentional choice that you live out. Just because you can’t do something for everybody doesn’t mean you can’t help somebody.”
Once we begin living intentional lives that are open and receptive to engaging with other people, Mawi says it’s ready to hit our turbo buttons. “There is a dragon slayer that can be woken up in each of us, to advance ourselves and grow,” he says. “The best time to hit your turbo button is now. Here’s how: Make a list of your three biggest dreams and your three biggest challenges. Then write one activity that you can do this week that will help you towards a dream and one that will help make a challenge easier. There’s a turbo button inside each of our hearts. It’s critical that we hit that button.”
That’s not to say our challenges will go away. When we face difficulty, Mawi encouraged students to look to their faith, their family and “sunlight activities” to persevere through tough times. “Just as a plant needs sunlight to grow, we need to be aware of the activities, sports, volunteer work, art or hobbies that bring us energy and joy. I call these our ‘sunlight activities.’ What are your sunlight activities that help you through your difficulties?”
For times when our sunlight activities still can’t drive away the clouds, Mawi encourages students to reach out. “There are moments in life when we have to ask for help. The moment when you feel no one in the world can help you is the most important moment to get help.”
Mawi left our students with this thought: “Operate like there are things you can’t see that will be a blessing, and in time, those blessings will come.”
In response, students are already thinking of how they can implement Mawi’s perspective and lessons into their own lives. "My biggest takeaway was that everyone faces battles that are completely their own and while, yes, those are hard, it is our responsibility to turn those battles into our assets," says student Keyoiry Banks '18. "We need to learn and grow from them, so that we may become better as a result. We are not to let our trials and tribulations hold us back, but we should use them to propel us."
"The biggest takeaway from the book and the talk is probably not to give up as easily, and to fight for what you want," says student Monserrat Estrada '21. "Mawi went through so much growing up, but it didn't let him stop him from wanting something. Instead, he worked hard and did what he needed to do to become the person he is today."