President's Blog

A tale of two immigrants (and great higher education)

IMG_2149You probably already know the story of the guy on the left.  I told a piece of it during my inauguration last april.  Like many other immigrants who land in this country, mine is a story of opportunity enabled by great higher education and by a culture that cares more about what one can do than where one was born.

The story of the guy on the right shares some of those elements, but is more remarkable.  It’s the story of a taxi driver of the many who take passengers to and from the Reagan National Airport in Alexandria. We got into a nice conversation on my way back home after I noticed on the visor of his taxi an “I Love Mason” button.

His is the story of an Ethiopian man who made it to the U.S. together with his wife via Russia and Germany and who now manages to take three graduate classes at Mason while driving a full shift, with the hope of finishing his Masters in Engineering soon.

His wife already finished her own Masters at Mason, after she first graduated with a B.S. in nursing.  Between the taxi and her income as a nurse (and her share of night shifts at Inova Hospital), they have managed to raise two kids who, in their proud father’s words, “are a lot smarter” than he is.

The older of the two kids is now a junior at William & Mary.  His younger sister is still in high school and doing very well.  They hope she will study engineering at Mason.

As we say our goodbyes he smiles and says: “what a great country, where you can study and do whatever you want to do”.  I agree.  I don’t think I will ever look at the “I Love Mason” button the same way.