Winter 2016: “Every Girl’s Right” University Winner Kelsi Belcher

Read Kelsi's essay, "A Mother's Motivation," about how struggles through her adolescence presented her with a precious opportunity.

Kelsi Belcher, a college freshman at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “Standing With Malala: Meet the Teenagers Who Survived the Taliban and Kept Going to School.” From 2009-2012 the Taliban forcefully banned girls in the Swat Valley of Pakistan from going to school. In an interview with Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, the two friends of Malala who were also shot on the bus by the Taliban in 2012 tell the story of the traumatic experience that emboldened them to stand up for the right of every girl to an education.

Writing Prompt: Describe how you would feel if you were forcibly banned from going to school tomorrow—and indefinitely. What would you do?


A Mother’s Motivation

I graduated from East Jackson Public Schools in 2011 with a mediocre GPA that I was less than proud of. Although absorbing information had always come easily to me, my efforts never matched my natural abilities. Constantly allowing personal issues to come before school, I took my educational opportunities for granted. I just didn’t care. Convinced that college wasn’t for me, while all my friends were filling out their applications, I instead enlisted in the United States Army.

After high school graduation, I said farewell to my friends and was shipped off to Basic Combat Training. After my training was completed, I returned home to what felt like nothing. All my friends were off at colleges and universities making something of themselves, and my mistakes from the past hindered me from doing the same. Feeling lost with nowhere to go, I reverted to the typical “lost teenager” tendencies. I confided in the wrong group of people, drank myself to sleep several of my pathetic nights, and focused more on where I could get my hands on drugs than on anything else in my life. In those few short months, I made the most poisonous decisions of my life, until I got the shocking news that forced me to grow up.

July 9, 2013 was the first day of the rest of my life. On this day, I gave birth to my son, the most gorgeous being I have ever laid eyes upon. Instantly, my life was put into perspective. He changed my whole world and mindset in a matter of seconds. For the first time in what felt like forever, my life had purpose again. Holding this tiny miracle in my arms, I vowed three things: to protect him from evil, expose him to the good, and to raise him to be someone we’d both be proud of someday. Never would I allow Grady, my son, to feel as low as I once had from lack of educational confidence. This perfect boy is my hero and I will do everything in my power to give him the best life possible.

I sit here five years after high school graduation as a strong, confident single mother, who is beyond proud of herself and her accomplishments. In the last few years, I’ve obtained three distinct medical certifications. I am currently enlisted in the Army National Guard and attend two separate colleges for my paramedic’s license and nursing prerequisites. I’m indescribably grateful that I recognized the importance of education and have had the opportunity to better myself through it. Knowledge doesn’t only bring you knowledge; it brings you confidence and power. It teaches you social skills, and your classmates create an added support system. Thinking about the mindset I used to have breaks my heart, and thinking about someone taking away my right to learn not only angers me, but also saddens me tremendously. Education has brought so much light to my once-dark life, as well as the determination to never quit, not only for myself, but for my son.

When you’re privileged, it’s easy to take your education for granted and not realize how fortunate you are. It’s even harder to put yourself in someone’s shoes who doesn’t have the same educational rights as you, like Malala Yousafzai. In the YES! article, “Standing With Malala: Meet the Teenagers Who Survived the Taliban and Kept Going to School,” we learned of the many struggles she and her peers confronted daily and how she fearlessly stood up to the Taliban, eventually resulting in a shot in the face at the age of fifteen. Even then, she didn’t give up, using the attack as motivation rather than intimidation. Teenage years are for being selfish and making mistakes, not being selfless and making a difference. Malala was an exception.

Luckily, I live in America where women don’t have such hostile threats to their education. Because of this, it’s impossible for me to say whether I could be as brave as Malala if I were in the same situation. She showed a colossal amount of courage and it’s mind-boggling to even fathom, let alone claim, that I would undoubtedly imitate Malala. It’s likely I would’ve been scared and submissive, accepting the fact that I didn’t have a right to an education. But as I sit here, seven years older than Malala, with something to live for and so much more to prove and accomplish, it would be a cold day in hell before I allowed anyone to take away my right to an education. I would call every lawyer and news station willing to listen, enlist every woman I knew brave enough to protest, and fight for what’s rightfully ours. Malala’s passion is honorable, and her love for women’s equality is her purpose to keep going. I tuck my purpose into bed every night, and I will fight for him for the rest of my life.

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