Making a Difference for Real
Graduating senior Mark Thiong’o can still remember receiving the news via e-mail four years ago. It had a smiley-face as the subject line and Mark, too, was smiling ear to ear after he read it.
“That was the day my life changed,” says Mark through his characteristic British accent. That’s when he knew he would be coming to GMC—all the way from Kenya.
Growing up, Mark’s mother took up the responsibility as a single parent, along with his older brother. They were a close-knit bunch and made going to school a priority for the whole family, regardless of how difficult it might prove to be. Despite financial worries, Mark had the drive that earned him a scholarship to Hillcrest Secondary, an international British school.
Mark made a splash at Hillcrest immediately. His self-driven, proactive way of problem-solving was a true gift for a school and surrounding community in need of such leaders.
The way Mark saw it, he just liked being involved and making people’s lives better.
“My last year in high school, Kenya went through a huge drought. It was one of the worst we had in recent history. At this international school, many of the students were well-to-do and far removed from the problems most Kenyans were going through,” Mark says. “For me, the problem was very close to my backyard, so I challenged my peers to forego a luxury for a week—a bottle of soda or whatever—and save up that money to buy food for those in need.”
By the end of the week, Mark’s project raised nearly $400,000—enough to buy over four tons of food for needy Kenyans. “We had so much potential to do something, but no one had really put two and two together.” The event was also covered by news media, and other schools adopted Mark’s plan. Mark’s simple impulse to give had started a legacy of sorts, a legacy he brought with him all the way to rural Vermont.
But before it began, that familiar feeling of concern over finances crept in. Mark was a finalist for the Make a Difference Scholarship at GMC, an award he would need to fund his education, but barely missed the mark. Struggling to keep his chin up, Mark’s mother gave him some comforting words.
“‘It’s not all done, Mark,’ she told me. “Faith is a very important thing to me, and when everything was up in the air, I reflected on her words. After nearly a month of waiting and my hopes waning, I got that e-mail,” Mark says with a large grin.
It was a cause for celebration, not only for Mark, but for his family—and even his community. “The scholarship wasn’t just received by me. In a way, everyone I knew back in Kenya was talking about it. It was for them as well. It was so special to have that kind of support,” Mark says.
Given that, Mark arrived at GMC with immense gratitude, not only as a humbled Make a Difference Scholar, but as someone who had been given a second chance and overcame some staggering odds all along the way. That gave Mark a sense of obligation—he wanted to live up to the honor that had been extended to him.
“Each and every one of the students here has enabled me to be here in a way. I may not be able to give back with my money, but I didn’t want that to stop me from giving back with my time and my talents. One of the things I purposed from day one was to apply myself in any aspect of the student life that I could. That’s what made me run for student senate and become involved with the International Awareness Club,” he says.
ng back on everything, Mark says it’s been a wild ride that he’ll never forget and always appreciate. He’ll always remember his conversation with President Fonteyn on Main Street that led to an internship opportunity at Duke Energy. He’ll always remember being recognized at the Model United Nations Headquarters in New York City along with the others from GMC’s team. He’ll always remember the feeling of meeting so many different sorts of people from different walks in life.
In the future, Mark wants to pursue graduate school in business studies. He hopes to in some way—through government, industry, or tried and true service—to bring his lessons back to Kenya to improve the quality of life back home. In a poignant way, it would be a culmination for Mark. His “making a difference” journey started in Kenya with a desire to feed the hungry, and years later—armed with more knowledge, more life experience, and more zeal than ever—Mark hopes to make a triumphant return to his native country and bring all of those lessons full circle.
“I want to do a lot, but I recognize I’m only one person. I want to inspire everyone to be involved so that was can solve big problems together. I’m just going to take it one day at a time, so we’ll see what happens.”
-Chad Skiles ‘12