Voices of the Elders: Courage, Determination and the Passion of a Mother | MSU Today
Mark Evans Ondari is currently a Principal Investigator in the Manufacturing Science and Technology Division of Corteva Agriscience (formerly Dow AgroSciences and DuPont Crop Protection) in Midland, Michigan. He got his doctorate. in organic chemistry from MSU in 2010 and a BS in chemistry from the University of Nairobi, Kenya in 2003. In his spare time, Ondari is passionate about space-time and writing as a hobby.
Long after my doctorate. defense on December 6, 2010, I sat down at my desk at 209 of the chemistry building and cried – a prolonged cry that was spontaneous and melancholy in its effect. The lingering acidity of the abject poverty I had grown up in seemed temporarily diluted and less corrosive. Even the invisible burdens of being a first generation student and the first student of an assistant research professor seemed much lighter that day. In the end, the tears seemed like an appropriate and therapeutic closure to a college journey that had ended as implausibly as it had begun.
Born and raised by an illiterate single mother of eight in a remote village in Kenya, there was nothing in my mundane childhood that would have prepared me for a doctorate. Poverty was not only endemic, excruciating and humiliating, its impact on education was explicit, demanding and vicious. Where I grew up, no one had a college degree, let alone dreamed of anything greater or better than mere existence.
In the 10 years since my defense, I am still in awe of how a bookless child who used a smoky kerosene lamp for over 20 years and never wore shoes or brushed them. teeth until the age of 15, was able to overcome his “academic dwarfism”, obtain a Ph.D. and compete with the best and the brightest.
There is, however, no mystery in this. My mother, who has since died, is as much the cornerstone of this success as she was the architect. Despite – or perhaps because of – her illiteracy, she was singularly determined to ensure that her children received the education she lacked. The pain of seeing his battered but resolved body walking barefoot for hours every day from distant markets to odd jobs and back again for years just to provide basic food and supplies, fueled an insatiable thirst in me that not even a doctorate. could turn off.
Thinking back to those five years of graduate school and the last 10 as an industrial scientist, my opinion is that, despite our graduate degrees or academic pedigree, we are universally average when it comes to innate abilities.
Time, privilege, and a good dose of good old luck give those with courage the tolerance they need to stand in line as long as possible to win Nobel Prizes and do other great things, even if the rest of us dark in the dark.
With enough time, you can teach almost anything to anyone, but you can’t necessarily teach them to be passionate about it. In the averages game, passion, like my mom’s, can and often does make all the difference in how we define success.
To learn more about Mark Ondari, follow him on Twitter @markondari