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Mona with Presidential Spouse Traci Corey at the college’s Leadership for Individual and Social Responsibility Awards, May 11, 2016.

Ndamona “Mona” Hinamanu is an Olivet College junior, marketing major and volleyball player. During the college’s annual Leadership Awards May 11, she was one of two students honored with the Dr. John W. Porter Scholarship and was invited to speak to at the event.

Mona’s powerful story of her family’s journey to overcome poverty and her pursuit of a college education are nothing short of inspiring. Here are Mona’s words:

My Olivet College Story

To start, I would like to tell you about my journey to Olivet and a little bit about my story.

I spent the majority of my childhood living in Lansing. My parents were both African immigrants who were forced to come to this country because of war. They are from the country of Namibia, located right above South Africa. My mother was lucky enough to accept a scholarship to be able to travel to different countries with a church group. At the end of the program, they would pay for you to gain an undergrad degree.

My father however, took a very different path in life. He was not as fortunate as my mom. He came from poverty. Not the American standard of poverty, but third world country poverty. I remember him telling me as a child, about his experiences working for a white family scrubbing floors all day long. We must remember Namibia at the time was living under apartheid rules, and blacks did not have very many rights. When he was a teen, he joined SWAPO, which stands for South-West Africa People’s Organization. He fought in the war and as a result became angry because of it. He and many of his friends who fought in the war never ended up being the same.

All while growing up in my household, there was always a disconnect between my parents and me. I never understood their way of life, nor did I really care to. Being a first generation American in a household of parents who are stuck in their old ways was hard. I myself had become bitter at the fact we weren’t like every other American family. I just wanted to feel and be normal. In fact we were very different.

Even though my parents escaped the African poverty, it followed them here to America. I still remember growing up as a young kid and realizing things were different, and it was not just because my parents spoke a different language. We struggled as a family to make ends meet. I don’t think I recall one of my parents’ arguments not being about money or their financial situation.

I was confused and it showed throughout my school work and even my personality. I had never really been an A student and that was not my goal. Grades were not important to me and I just went to school to go through the motions. See, even though both my parents went to college and graduated, I never really figured it was the path I would ever head down. I then realized a degree was no use, if you do not use it to better yourself. Poverty a lot of time is associated with a negative mindset and lack of opportunity.

Growing up, I didn’t really think college would be an option for me, let alone a private institution. Leading up to coming to Olivet, I applied to many schools. Fortunately, I played volleyball and was blessed enough to get in contact with Megan Merchant, Olivet’s head coach. When making my decision on which college to attend, I knew Olivet was the best bet for me. I wanted to escape the poverty that had influenced the majority of my life.

Olivet sold me on the goal of opportunity. However the path was not easy. When I initially toured Olivet, I was thinking, “How can I survive here?” First I was thinking, there has to be more than just Subway – shortly then realizing, that was all the fast food there was. Yet, on my tour the people around the campus all looked happy. They just kept smiling at me. I had not received that at any other institution I had visited.

Soon after I visited, I knew Olivet College was the college for me. It fit what I was looking for and it somewhat felt like a home. Even on Move-In Day, meeting President Corey and shaking hands with him was nothing I ever expected. Then, I didn’t realize the grand effect the college would have on my life and how I would do a complete 360.

Little did I know, in just three years at Olivet my entire life would change. I began to focus on academics and care about my future. I became involved in Greek life and volunteered in community service. I began to think outside of the box and realize giving back is the most rewarding feeling.

Olivet College showed me opportunity that would have never been possible if I had gone somewhere else. I am a better person because of the college and for that, I say thank you. What defines me as a person is the strength I had to overcome to be where I am today. The experiences I’ve had at Olivet College shaped me to become a better person and show me how bright my future really is.

Every struggle I’ve had in my life has inspired me to do better. I now know life isn’t always fair. Yes, growing up in poverty with nothing was hard but I have the ability to make my own future. I am proud to say I have paid my own way through college… with the help of a few loans of course.

I would hope Dr. Porter would be proud of an individual like myself. Someone who, looking at all the statistics, is not “supposed” to be here… Someone who chose the right college fit in Olivet College. As Dr. Porter was a pioneer in education, he took control of his life and led the way for change. He gave others opportunity. I made the decision with the help of my professors, sisters and coach to change the road my life was headed on.

I am excited for my future. I never would have imagined graduate school a possibility, but all the doors in my life are now open. I would like to thank God for giving me this scholarship and to anyone at Olivet who saw something in me even before I did, thank you. You changed my life for the better and I plan on never going back. Poverty is not something you must carry on through generations, you can take control of your own life and change that destiny.

Thank you and God bless.

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