I was asked by someone very close to me if I worried about what my legacy would be when I am gone. Not all of us can be members of the billionaires club and make the pledge to use the majority of our accumulated wealth to address the huge problems affecting the countries around the globe. That should not stop us from being able to have an impact on the lives of others or to create our own legacies. You may not even be aware of the impact that you have until someone is brave enough to just approach you and ask.
How I met Chidinma.
About nine years ago, when I was working as an Assistant Vice President/General Counsel at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (“UMBC”), I was at the on-campus ATM making a withdrawal. From the corner of my eye, I saw an attractive young woman standing off to the side. I thought she was waiting to access the machine so I tried to be quick with my transaction. As I turned to walk away, she moved forward and rather than approaching the ATM, she walked right up to me and introduced herself. She then proceeded to say that she had seen me around campus and really wanted to know who I was and what I did. Her smile was engaging and she was so serious. I was curious about her as well so I invited her to walk with me back to my office and that began our mentor/mentee relationship that has lasted since then.
I learned that Chidinma, as she is affectionately called, was a foreign student from Nigeria. She is one of five children in a family that cherished and pursued education with a passion. I cannot imagine the how she felt so far away from home – away from her parents and friends. It was not like going to university in a different state. This was a different country!
We had many talks about our cultures, her experiences in the United States, grades, courses, friends, navigating college and, yes, social life (code words for “men”). Her focus was totally and completely on her studies and she was determined not to let anything get in her way. I held her hand when she was upset, hugged her when she was happy, encouraged her when she was down, offered guidance and advice and always support.
So I became a “Mom”
Without knowing it, she gave so much to me as well. One of the most touching moments to me was when I realized that she had started calling me “Mom.” She truly considered me her “American Mom.” I was very humbled and moved when I met her parents for the first time at her graduation from UMBC. In Africa, they truly believe it takes a village to raise a child and I was now a part of that village. I fell in love with all of them at that moment. After three years of difficult studies and hard work, during which we continued our relationship, Chidinma graduated from law school. There had been more tears, lots of advice and guidance, and a lot of long distance hand holding but we made it through. Chidinma now has a wonderful job and a beautiful start to her new life. I am so very proud of her and thankful for her friendship and the mutual love and respect we have between us. I will always be here for her along her journey.