The Little Spark That Determined The Verdict

By Rutendo Madziwo, Smith College '19

In this rapidly growing "technocentric" global village, academic prowess has ceased to be the ONLY ingredient for a successful life. This globe, like any ecosystem, favours not just the fittest but the bravest; those courageous enough to move out of the comfort zone and strong enough to make failure a stepping stone to success, yet at the same time humble enough to get their hands dirtied while moving mountains. It requires those who, when life becomes a challenging battle, move fearlessly to the forefront, ready to face any circumstance.....and throw back whatever obstacle life throws at them- make lemonade out of lemons as one over used saying aptly expresses. Clearly selecting 35 such individuals from hundreds of hopeful applicants from Zimbabwe’s 2015 Upper Six students would be no mean feat! That would take us almost a month before we could sit back, relax and agree that the long search had indeed been worth it.

Rutendo Madziwo

And the committee deliberates - academic talent, leadership potential, ethos of giving, economic disadvantage - Does the candidate have all four USAP criteria? — at EducationUSA Zimbabwe

Being a former USAP "hopeful" myself I was not surprised at the number of applications we received; after all being selected to join USAP is a once in a lifetime opportunity that every student dreams of. What seemed impossible however was finding the "spark" that made a student stand out from the others. How were we going to come up with 35 USAP students from 911 applications? The majority of applicants were superb with brilliant academic records, half of them were apparent go-getters. We spent a fortnight going through those applications; a real 9-5 job that required our utmost attention. We were paired in boy-girl pairs – from different regions of the country so as to avoid bias - and were handed applications to work on. Our first task was to create a file for each applicant...this ensured that we would keep a clear record of and not lose any application. We dutifully went through the applications and were required to give reasons for accepting or rejecting an application. The pairs would then swop applications and rejected applications were read once again by a different pair in order to try ascertain if anyone would have been 'not worth rejecting'. Tiresome? Definitely! After a taxing fortnight we had pared down 115 semi-finalists. Brilliant! But we still had to go down to 35.

And then the USAP courtrooms were opened. Each pair- and in 'desperate times' each individual - had to defend their recommended candidates before a panel of members of the USAP selection committee. 'What would the verdict be?' It was a shaky bridge to cross as one had to know every little A-Z of one's candidate before presenting his/her application to the panel. One’s candidate might have an excellent academic record but not have extra –curricular activities, might be bright, involved in sports but not have a history of service or lack leadership qualities, might have all the above but still lack that "spark" to get ahead of the others. This was the most emotional phase for me. There are applicants who I thought 'had it all' until the jury proved otherwise from a slight flaw in the candidate's application (mostly a lack of commitment, effort, passion towards one's work).That small flaw was enough to disqualify even the greatest fighters from the battle.

Rutendo Madziwo

And that application was voted in! Note the empty sweets packets and pizza box....this was at about 330pm and we started at 830am.... — at EducationUSA Zimbabwe.

What made them unique and why? How did that "spark" shine out from so many "hopefuls"? One applicant carefully noted, "I am unique in that apart from my academic achievements, I possess a very high level of self-motivation and talent all in one small package (as they say about dynamite!). I have been able to put behind all of my life's rough patches and financial drawbacks and I still focus on achieving my goals. I can
still fight to achieve what someone who has everything I did not have can achieve because of my perseverance and self-drive. I have great zeal and anxiety of exploring options and taking risks that I believe I possess the key to the success of myself, my family, my community and Zimbabwe at large. Integrity and success is what I yearn and I believe the change that Zimbabwe needs is in me." He made it.

As we finalised our selection I recalled that this time last year, my own application was being rigorously and mercilessly scrutinised. As I reflected on this I was made even more aware of the fact that being a member of the USAP family is not just a privilege and honour but it’s also a big responsibility to my country, my community, my family, my former school and more importantly to all those who’ve recognised my potential and are helping me make my dream a reality. It is also my greatest hope that the 35 selected students for the USAP 2015 class will also be aware of the great responsibility that has now been thrust upon them.