A few days in advance, multiple weather forecasts called for 暴雨, which means torrential rain. Even on Saturday night, the forecast still called for consistent thunderstorms through the day starting in the early morning.
But when I woke up at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning, there was a still calm in the air and a bright sunrise color splashed across the clouds. For that day, the 19th of May, Twenty-Thirteen, The Zhiying Stars of Zhiying Middle School in Xiwei Village, Guangdong Province, China were meant to take the next step on a life-changing journey, and no dismal weather forecast was going to stop it from happening. And so, we set out from Xiwei Village, and oh what an unforgettable day it was…
For most of the 56 Zhiying Stars, it was their very first time to step foot out of the countryside. For many, it was their first time riding any other vehicle besides an electric scooter. The buzz, excitement and anticipation in the air was thick, tangible and contagious.
We pulled up to the gate, stepped off the bus and a whole new world opened up before my students’ eyes. These students are the most exceptional and talented students in the seventh grade at Zhiying Middle School, and yet for many of them, the thought of going to college one day had never even crossed their mind before this year. The statistics say that less than 3% of the students in China’s rural countryside will make to university. Before this year, only a few of my students had ever met a college student, as many of their friends and family members dropped out in or after middle school to begin work to support their families. So as that new world unfolded before their eyes, it was bright, beautiful and glorious.
From around 9am until 3pm, The Zhiying Stars’ role models and friends showed them around their home, their laboratory, their classroom—Shantou University. From an hour in the library, to the School of Art & Design, to lunch in the canteen, to interacting with sea creatures in the Biology Lab, the life of a college student came alive for The Zhiying Stars. Easy to find dressed in our new Zhiying Stars class t-shirts, over 21 incredibly welcoming, generous and engaging university students found and joined us as we explored and engaged. I will give these priceless pictures a chance to tell the story my words could never do justice to.
For these Zhiying Stars, the journey to Shantou University started back fall when they first started to interact with their lifelong role models at Zhiying Middle School. Most recently, the student’s in the incredible Amy’s outstanding class came twice to Xiwei in May. These world-changers selfishly gave countless hours of their time to invest, encourage and inspire The Zhiying Stars.
And oh how they inspired.
Through sharing their stories, meeting my students where they are, and completely erasing the 5-7 year age gap separating them, these students planted seeds that will germinate, grow and bear fruit for years and years to come, echoing into the very depths of eternity.
Yesterday afternoon around 3’oclock, we climbed on the bus after a day full of warm sunshine and ocean breeze. The weather was gloriously perfect, and gave us space to leave it all on the table in Shantou with not one second wasted. As soon as our bus reached the main intersection and we started the journey back into the countryside, the clouds released the rain that was supposed to be falling the entire day. Over the next hour and a half as we drove closer and closer to Xiwei Village, the rain suddenly stopped and a bright yellow light appeared on the horizon to lead us home. The bus atmosphere was thick with mouths moving a mile a minute, processing every second of the unforgettable day at Shantou University. Oh the memories to reflect on and share.
After the bus arrived at Zhiying Middle School around 4:30, we got off the bus and the students started the journey back to their homes, many having to travel 30 minutes by bike to far-away villages. At 5 o’clock, Terry, one of the Zhiying Stars whose village is the farthest away from Zhiying, called me to let me know he was home safe and sound. We chatted about the day for a minute or so, and I sent him off to share with his parents and get some rest for the coming week ahead. As soon as I pulled my cell phone down from my ear and ended the call, the looming dark sky outside belched a loud and rippling roll of thunder, and the rain began to fall. It was that torrential 暴雨that rivaled the infamous Hurricane Fran that passed over my hometown as a child. At that moment, my heart that was already filled with joy, awe and gratefulness began to overflow. My mind quickly bounced back to the calm feeling I experienced that very morning when I realized that the weather forecast and threat of rain was not going to threaten a day and an event that was much bigger than black clouds and rolling thunder.
The Zhiying Stars’ journey to May 19th began not just last semester when they began to interact with their role models for the first time, but back who knows how long, into this epic, global and always-unfolding story of odd-defying hope.
Working with The Zhiying Stars over the past two years has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. It has changed me, challenged me, blessed me, inspired me. The Zhiying Stars have made me a better person in countless ways. They have and continue to work with everything they have within them to prove to the world that the crippling statistics stacked against them have no say on their future, that where they were born, in the rural coastal countryside of southeastern China does not decide for them their life path, and that indeed nothing….NOTHING is impossible. I’m treasuring every single second I get to spend with these future world-changers as I finish up my time teaching here at Zhiying Middle School. This Wednesday and Thursday, our dear friends from Shantou University will make two final trips to Zhiying as we wrap up this semester and year that has flown by.
The road ahead for The Zhiying Stars is anything but easy. In fact, its absurdly and unfairly difficult. But here on May 20th, 2013, fueled and encouraged by all the experiences we’ve been a part of this year, The Zhiying Stars and I together look forward with an intense, relentless and bright hope and faith. As CS Lewis so beautifully put it, ”now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before…”
And so, the journey continues…