I am an East African Muslim American undergraduate student. That is the world’s general classification of me, my identity. But if you look past that, like most people, the things I have been through in my nineteen years of life will prove to demonstrate so much more. There is no specific experience that defines me. Rather a misfortunate circumstance that acted as a catalyst for many defining moments to come. As a result, I realized that I do stand tall on my own, that I possess strength in my voice, thoughts, and actions.
Eight years ago, my father left. Leaving me with, a now, single mother and three siblings. He left me. It took me a long time to process that and the responsibilities that came with it. By the time I was twelve, I had formed a daily routine with the sole purpose of relieving any unnecessary hardships from my mother. I figured the financial struggles of raising four kids on her own had to be bad enough. I began homeschooling which gave me room to better use my time flexibly. Every day went something like this: wake up early, study hard and quick, clean the house, walk to my younger brother’s school in time for dismissal, walk them home, make sure dinner is ready before my mom gets home, and finish the day studying and helping my brothers with homework. With the help of my sister, this was all very possible.
I was under so much pressure at such a young age, however, looking back I see that no one was harder on me than I was on myself. I had to do better, I had to maintain my position at the top of every class, I had to work hard and help out, I had to be great. I had to be all those things because I had to show my father the spectacular human being he was going to missing out on. The heart aching truth was that he was missing out on all of it by choice. A choice he made that thrusted me passed the majority of my childhood.
However, I truly believe that it is because of that choice and my mother that I now see in myself values and traits I cannot help but be proud of: my work ethic, determination, and optimism. I excel in school not because I am a genius but because I am willing and able to put in the work needed to succeed. Balancing being a full-time student, working part-time, and tutoring homeschooled kids in my community, is a result of my determination. I understand that in order to prosper, you need to fail. However, the real test is what one does after they fail; I choose to try again. Most importantly I admire my ability to make the most of a tough situation.
My name is Tirsaay. In Harari, it translates to view of happiness. My ultimate goal in life is to be that sight of happiness for someone who has been stuck in the dark the way I worked tirelessly to be for my mother. I want to be the reason someone chooses to smile the way that I have. I plan to achieve that by doing exactly what I have been doing my entire life. I will continue to employ the values my mother has worked so hard to instill in me and keep pushing forward. I pray for the future, stay content with the present, and learn from the past. That is how I define myself.
I am my mother; she defines me. I am my joy, my triumphs, my hard work, my spirit. I am the choices I make, the people I love, and those that love me. My positive outlook on life and my ability to spark a flame in a never ending dark tunnel defines me. I am defined by the knowledge I seek and the excitement I feel in what we call the ‘aha’ moment. I define myself by the pleasures in life and the things that make me happy. Those things have evolved over the course of my life but the root of it, the roots that began with my mother and will end with God, have never changed. That is why I can confidently say that I am defined by nothing and everything that has made me, taught me, and pushed me. My individuality is defined by the small moments of realization, the moments in my life where self-loathing transformed into self-love, hate became appreciation, and pain became strength. I choose to define myself as a powerful force that a misfortunate event, by the grace of God, caused me to be.