Carmen Augusto, an alum and member of the Class of 2009 at ALA recently graduated from Smith College and had the honor of delivering the student speech (below) at Smith College’s Ivy Day celebration on Saturday, May 14.
Oi Gente! Bom dia, good morning, Smithies, families, friends, and Class of 2016!
I am Carmen Augusto, and I am honored to share my story with you, and to represent the many journeys of the amazing women on this campus from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America. We’ve come from around the world to embark on this remarkable—and sometimes rocky—experience.
I was born and raised in Beira, Mozambique, in Southern Africa. I am from a family of three children, and my mom is here after a 35-hour flight in order to witness my graduation.
When I was 12 years old my father was sentenced to five years in prison due to my country’s poor judicial system. He was a victim of a banking scandal that left thousands of Mozambicans impoverished. I remember the day when two policemen came into my house and took my father. We were left with nothing. From that day on, my life would change completely.
As a nurse, my mom didn’t make enough to keep us in school and to pay our bills; she took on night shifts so that we could afford at least one meal a day for our family.
With my dad in prison I had to wake up at 5 a.m. every day to clean the house, cook my dad’s meals and deliver them to the prison where there would be a line of about 100 to 300 women waiting for their husbands to finish eating, and thereafter I would race back to get to school on time.
When I moved up to public secondary school in Mozambique, it was quite different; my classroom we had 90 students per teacher. In a day where you were supposed to have seven classes only one or two teachers would actually show up. Everyone around me cheated and paid to pass a class. This was all I knew. No one ever told me that cheating was wrong; I didn’t know any other form of education.
In 2009 I was selected to attend a school in South Africa called the African Leadership Academy (also known as ALA), which aims to develop the next generation of African leaders. That’s when I began to understand the power of education.
Since Portuguese is my first language, when I arrived at ALA I struggled and failed a lot of classes the first semester because it was my first time studying in English. After completing my two years at ALA, I knew I still had to improve my English skills, so I accepted a scholarship to study at Miss Porter’s school in Connecticut.
That’s when I met my host parents: Cindy and Peter Petrillo, who knew nothing about me, but took me in as their daughter and supported me throughout my years at Smith as well.
At Miss Porter’s I fell in love with the supportive single-sex environment, and so when my college counselor told me about Smith, I visited campus and decided to apply. I really enjoy my economics classes with my adviser Roger Kaufman; I appreciate my Residential Life family for teaching me the essence of community building. I love the housing system—shout out to Tyler, Scales, Duckett and Gillette—you made me feel at home.
I am very grateful for alumnae like you who made my journey and so many others’ possible. For many international students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, asking our parents for $80 to buy a textbook is the equivalent of taking away a whole month’s worth of groceries from our families.
However, because of you and the Smith Students’ Aid Society, many of us, including me, are able to get eyeglasses, go to the dentist, buy our Ivy Day dresses, and attend academic conferences. Thank you for caring about us; your kindness made a difference in our lives. I am very thankful to my teachers and peers who encourage me to strive for excellence and to Smith for making me the woman I am today.
Alumnae and friends, because of your generous donations, I am not the girl waiting outside a prison. I’m the woman who had internships with Coca-Cola, General Electric and Carnegie Mellon. I’m the woman who spent her junior year abroad in Brazil. I’m the woman who will be moving to California after Smith and joining BlackRock, an asset management firm.
Obrigada, merci beaucoup, thank you for making my Smith experience possible.
About the author: Carmen was born in Mozambique on May3, 1993. She initiated an AIDS awareness and education program at the age of 13. This earned her the distinction of the youngest HIV/AIDS activist in her community. She graduated from Smith College having completed a course in Economics and Applied Statistics.