Hilda Nalwanga

Why You Should Care.

I have always been a tenacious sort of person, ready to press a little harder if only it would get me a little further. My mother too, had always been the stoic sort of woman, ready to give a little more than she owns in order to afford the children she raised singlehandedly a life better than her own. However, this determination could only take my family so far. In Uganda, plodding one’s way through primary school and high school is not that complicated. You just have to study hard and earn all the scholarships that schools offered.

Being able to go to college was never that easy, though. Excellent grades were not always determinants of who received the much-needed scholarships and who didn’t. If you had the money or knew a government official who worked in the university, your chances of getting a government scholarship would increase. Knowing too well how this system worked to my disadvantage, I was certain that my chances of a college education were slim.

Meeting staff at Ashinaga who believed in my abilities made me trust that a better kind of life was possible for people like me, who were disadvantaged in every way by the system. They believed in me and invested in me resources to prepare me for college here. I was left with no choice but to work hard toward it. Honestly, even to me, it did not make sense at first – why Ashinaga decided I could do better with an education other than my county’s own. Could I not get a similar college experience in Uganda? Those were questions I constantly asked myself, and besides, the SATs were not only daunting, they were an entirely new concept for me. Even though I had an amazing support system of people who gave their all to see me succeed, it was not easy imagining myself living a life better than I had at that time. It was all the same, there was no point in toiling so hard, I thought. But I still worked hard with the help of amazing interns who, with complete dedication, offered their help to me.

Meeting staff at Ashinaga who believed in my abilities made me trust that a better kind of life was possible for people like me, who were disadvantaged in every way by the system. They believed in me and invested in me resources to prepare me for college here.

Coming to Smith College was more than a dream come true. I asked for a chance to acquire an education, to acquire a bachelor’s that could possibly get me some place in this world. However, studying at Smith has offered a lot more than that. Studying at Smith has given me a different perspective that I now wish that more disadvantaged students from all over the world could have a chance to experience.

Smith has given me a chance to nurture my academic life as well as my passions and other things I deeply care about in an environment filled with amazing women who believe in endless possibility. Smith has shown me that college is more than just sitting in a class and taking notes. I have learned that in this world, it is possible to find professors who deeply care about your success not only as a student but also as an individual. Some of my best moments here have been walking into someone’s office and talking about what they were doing with their lives at my age, and finding solace in the fact that it is perfectly fine not to have it all together at a cutthroat college like Smith. I have found joy in meeting incredible students from all over the world and learning from their perspectives on issues that I had no idea about a few months ago.

Going to Smith is knowing that you are a part of a close-knit community of friends across the globe, and that you will never again walk alone. It is knowing that your dreams are shared by a vast number of successful men and women, and that each one of them is greatly invested in your success. It is knowing that you can execute your passions, even though they seem daunting, and trying to do them anyway because you have met professors, friends and mentors at Smith who are more than ready to cheer your dream on. Going to Smith has meant that I could have gotten a bachelor’s in any other institution in Uganda, but clearly not with as many doors open as my Smith education is offering.

Today, I see nothing less than endless potential. It is clear that if I grab with both hands all the opportunities Smith is offering me today, my life is never going to be the same. I believe that if more students like me were granted the kind of opportunity that Ashinaga has granted me, the scope of learning would impact not only us, but also our communities back home.