Daniel Armanios joined SMRC for its inaugural Global Development Internship in Manyeleti, South Africa in 2007. He produced a textbook for rural education in Africa to teach math and science to high school students. The students he tutored had a 100% pass rate on the national exams. He is a Truman and Rhodes Scholar, and plans to pursue his PhD next year.
My mother taught me change often comes in small packages but are no less significant…
In life, we often come upon those rare individuals that have the unique mixture of a will to preserve, an intellect with foresight, and an energy that inspires. For those of us who have the even rarer fortune to have those individuals as family, public service often becomes a lifestyle construed as easy. This is a reminder to me that change is not something that happens casually.
In the middle of the night, my grandmother took her two young sons and fled Abu Diab Ghairb, a small rural village of Qena in Upper Egypt, so they could have a better life in Cairo. She then called my grandfather and told him to come to Cairo as she was not going back. Without this remarkably courageous and selfless act from one woman in the 1950s when women’s rights in the Middle East was not even in the womb, my father would have never reached the unattainable, and America, for me, would have been a distant dream. This is a story of small yet significant victories by the women in my life and in my history, often quietly done in the shadows of where history-changing moments are thought to be made. My mother is its living embodiment.
When my mother first arrived in the US, she could not speak any English and used to go to the crafts fairs in Virginia Highlands, Atlanta just to practice. When she started as a graduate student, she lived on a $450/month graduate student stipend that her and my father shared. For extra income and to save money, she used to knit curtains that she sold in Alabama and used to knit all my father’s clothes and my baby clothes.
She went through doctoral qualifying exams while pregnant with my sister and yet became only the second foreign-born woman to become a Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellow, the only international fellowship for women pursuing aerospace sciences. Now, she is the Director of the Women in Engineering program at Georgia Tech, a college professor, and a former finalist for Atlanta Woman of the Year in Technology. She took Georgia Tech from barely having a Women in Engineering program to being the nation’s leading producer of female engineers.
During these struggles of a new young female American immigrant, she fondly remembers that her one splurge was going to Pizza Hut once a month. I think that really typifies my mother: she has the unique ability to take toils and tears and make them into tributes. She made her sacrifices for a single dream: better opportunities for her unborn children, my sister Laura and me. She had the faith to continue a race in which she knew she was miles behind so her unknown children could start on the same line as everyone else. I strive everyday to have that same faith for my own unborn children and to do it with her smile.
Change and public service is often a very lonely road, and everyday when I think about giving up, I think of her. If it is particularly difficult, I call her. If it is especially unbearable, I hug her or I hug the air if she is not around, hoping her warmth and courage will somehow transfer.
As another Mother’s Day approaches, I get the extraordinary privilege of remembering that I was there for the first one. To say with pride that I have a mom, that I am her son and that her example sustains me.