How The Son Of African Immigrants Won The Race To The Ivy League

Apr 5 2014, 9:44am CDT | by

By Julie Lythcott-Haims

My heart aches for Kwasi Enin, the Long Island child of Ghanaian immigrants who earned a spot at all eight Ivy League schools - a truly astonishing feat of college admission, and perhaps unprecedented. His qualifications are irrefutable: 2250 on the SAT (99th percentile), straight-A average, 11 advanced-placement courses, excellence in music, athletics, and leadership, and a beautiful common app essay using music as a motif.

In this era of hyper-competition over college admission some of us want a Kwasi-template to apply to our own kid, preferably starting at age two. What preschool did Kwasi attend, anyway? Which summer camp? Kwasi’s success both begs and answers the question, how did this happen?

Ask Kwasi how it happened, and he’ll credit his so-called “helicopter parents” with a fierce determination about education and achievement that characterizes not only West Africans but other immigrants to this country. I haven’t met the kid or his parents for that matter, but from what I’ve gleaned, Kwasi misunderstands the term.

Helicopter parents are those who do too much for their kids, which at a minimum results in a lack of basic life skills and can lead to crippling psychological harm. That’s clearly not Kwasi. Also included in the definition are parents who force their kids to study certain things and pursue a narrow set of activities, and there’s some indication that Kwasi’s parents may done that.

But here’s the nuance: Instilling a strong work ethic and setting high standards is good parenting. Pushing a kid to be the best at what the kid loves and has talent for: that’s good parenting too. But when a parent pushes a kid toward what the parent thinks is best or because it sates the parent’s ego – even when the kid has no inherent interest or talent – that’s helicopter parenting. From the interviews it’s clear Kwasi knows himself, likes himself, loves what he is doing, and enjoys pushing himself to excel. This, in the end, is what made the admissions difference .

Some people are asking not, how did this happen? But rather, how did this happen (to him?). Those who think this way may see black and brown people at best as undeserving recipients of handouts and setasides, at worst as thugs to be feared when walking down the street.

Some will say I’m “playing the race card” by raising this. Some are blind to their own race card – their access to legacy admission, as well as the very best schools, tutoring, college counselors, and test preparation assistance. Even in the face of objectively outstanding accomplishment like Kwasi’s, the American nightmare of race and status invades the  American Dream.

I’ve experienced that nightmare. I, too, was a black kid who got into some top schools, and I attended one of them – Stanford – and went on to achieve a good measure of success in my professional life. But knowing that some people believed I was only where I was because of my race, I felt the need to constantly prove myself, to be better in order to be seen simply as good enough. It felt like a footpressing down on my neck; it affected how I spoke and responded to many a question. At times it was so oppressive I couldn’t breathe. It took me the better part of my 46 years to get over it.

This is partly why my heart aches for Kwasi. The remainder of my ache comes from having a black son. When I heard about Kwasi I raised my fists in triumph over what it took for Kwasi and the Enins to get to this point, for how wonderful it is within our uniquely American context to see a young black man in the news for his astonishing intellectual achievement instead of for being on the wrong side of a gun.

And how unusual. There are plenty more highly accomplished black and brown boys in our nation, and we should absolutely celebrate them and offer opportunity to those who have the potential.

I replayed Kwasi’s CNN interview more than a dozen times, enjoying his earnest voice, his humble words, his unassuming demeanor. In it he tells the reporter, “Knowing that I’m going to have a happy day because of the things I’m doing in this day, because I love doing all of them… that’s what really pushes me.” I sit back, satisfied, with a smile. For Kwasi, for America, and for me.

Julie Lythcott-Haims is the former dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University, is currently pursuing a MFA degree in creative writing, and is the author of a forthcoming book on the perils of helicopter parenting (Holt, 2015). For more go to Facebook.com/deanjulie

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Sports meet in Kenya cancelled over Ebola fears
Nairobi, Aug 21 (IANS) The International Netball Federation (INF) cancelled an international meeting in Nairobi owing to deadly Ebola virus attack that has visited parts of Africa, Xinhua reported Wednesday.
 
 
UN chief condemns American journalist's killing
United Nations, Aug 21 (IANS) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon Wednesday strongly condemned the killing of American journalist James Foley by extremist Islamist militants, calling it "an abominable crime".
 
 
Russia suspends four McDonald restaurants
Moscow, Aug 21 (IANS) Russia's consumer rights watchdog said Wednesday it has temporarily shut down four McDonald's restaurants here, including the first ever outlet in the country, citing sanitary violations.
 
 
Egypt mufti's adviser slams killing of US journalist
Cairo, Aug 20 (IANS) Ibrahim Negm, advisor to the mufti of Egypt, Wednesday denounced the beheading of US journalist James Foley by the Islamic State (IS) Sunni extremist group in Iraq, state-run MENA news agency reported.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

US admits failure to rescue journalist in Syria
Washington, Aug 21 (IANS) The US had recently attempted to rescue a number of American hostages, including slain journalist James Foley held in Syria by the Islamic State, but the mission failed, Pentagon Press...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Zoe Saldana finally admits pregnancy
Los Angeles, Aug 21 (IANS) "Avatar" actress Zoe Saldana has for the first time acknowledged that she is pregnant via a video of her ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, an activity where people dump a bucket of ice water on one's...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Robin Williams to be honored by Billy Crystal
Billy Crystal will honor the late Robin Williams at the upcoming Emmy Awards. The 66-year-old comedian will lead tributes to his longtime friend, who was found dead at his home in Tiburon, California on August 11 after...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Kourtney Kardashian thinks cravings are 'fun'
Kourtney Kardashian thinks cravings are a ''fun'' part of pregnancy. The 35-year-old beauty, who is expecting her third child with boyfriend Scott Disick, admits she can't get enough of cheese and pickle sandwiches at...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Gwyneth Paltrow approves of Jennifer Lawrence
Gwyneth Paltrow reportedly approves of Chris Martin's new romance with Jennifer Lawrence. The 'Iron Man 3' star, who recently started dating 'Glee' co-creator Brad Falchuk, has reportedly given her estranged husband,...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Israel to step up Gaza offensive: Netanyahu
Jerusalem, Aug 21 (IANS) Israel will step up the offensive in the Gaza Strip until rocket firing from there into Israel stops, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday in response to renewed Gaza rocket attacks...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
UN chief hails destruction of Syrian chemicals
United Nations, Aug 21 (IANS) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon Wednesday welcomed the destruction of Syria's declared chemical weapons material on board the US Maritime Vessel Cape Ray. "This marks a significant...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
UAE president issues anti-terror law
Abu Dhabi, Aug 21 (IANS) UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan issued the country's anti-terrorism law Wednesday, state media reported. Though the media report did not specify the details of the law, but so far no...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Sports meet in Kenya cancelled over Ebola fears
Nairobi, Aug 21 (IANS) The International Netball Federation (INF) cancelled an international meeting in Nairobi owing to deadly Ebola virus attack that has visited parts of Africa, Xinhua reported Wednesday. Kenya...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Egypt to have three new provinces
Cairo, Aug 21 (IANS) Egypt is to establish three new provinces and demarcate others including Cairo, Giza and Suez, a government official said Wednesday. The new three provinces will be Middle Sinai, Alamin and Wahat...
Read more on Politics Balla