With area high school graduations this month, some students can find themselves at a crossroads as they determine what’s next in their life. For commentator, and high school senior Berucha Cintron, this crossroads took place in the form of a short, emotional conversation she had with her mother several years before.
These two words hold the most profound significance in my life. I am bound by their promise.
All the struggles that weighed upon my mother seemed too much to bear. She sat in the bathroom while my brother and sisters slept and tried to hide her tears from me.
I wanted to reassure her. “Mommy, it’s okay.”
“Beru,” she called me. “You have to go to school. You have to be successful. You have to do better.”
“I will,” I promised. I was 12.
Her words made me love her all the more and sparked a determination in me I didn’t even know I had. Her exhaustion from working 12 hour shifts to put food on the table made her eyes and body heavy. The simple act of standing itself seemed painful. However, as she stood up, she kept her eyes fixed on me, her eldest daughter, her successor. Our lights were cut off at the time, and the candles that illuminated the room made her watery eyes sparkle. They pleaded and demanded that I never share their dejection.
Growing up, we were no stranger to the struggle. Sometimes the issue was extreme, forcing my family to be homeless or without electricity or water. Thankfully, most times we had just enough to get by. I can’t remember a time when my mom, a single mom, wasn’t working. Sometimes, she held multiple jobs at once. As the oldest of five children, I had to take responsibility; and, although a child myself, I helped raise my younger siblings.
My family moved a great deal around the East Coast, always for different reasons. It’s been difficult settling, because of having to start over, multiple times. Though despite all the hardships, I’m extremely grateful for our struggles; they are my drive for perseverance and success.
My mother didn’t ask me to promise her anything, she simply made sure that I knew my mission. My vow was unspoken, but no less deeply held.
I’ll be the first in my family to graduate from high school. My ambitions, my mindset, and my life are driven by my promise: to be the first but not the last of my family to know success. I’ll take what I’ve learned from looking into those heavy eyes of my mother and break the chain of despair. This is what motivates me to do better and reminds me if I don’t. This promise I made to my mother, to those similar to me, to my future, and now to you: I will.
Berucha Cintron graduated from P.D. Jackson-Olin High School today. She’ll attend Berea College in Kentucky in the fall. This commentary was edited by WBHM’s Michael Krall and produced in partnership with the Birmingham Education Foundation.