Choppy Waters: A Schickel Foundation Essay

Each year, incoming freshmen submit essays to the Elizabeth Schickel Foundation.

Each year, incoming freshmen submit essays to the Elizabeth Schickel Foundation.

In most fantasy books you read, the hero slays the dragon, and everyone lives happily ever after. Acts of heroism in today’s world can be as small as a mother catching her toddler from tripping on the playground, or as big of an act as firefighters rescuing people from a flaming building. In everyday life, there are obstacles every individual has to face; it could be a minor challenge or a major ordeal that takes brave acts and virtues of heroism to overcome. This particular story, not from my life, but from my grandfather and mother’s life, altered my family’s history and changed the way my family sees the place that we call home today.

Sitting where I am right now, I ask myself, how did I get here? This is a wonderful place with supportive parents, a great education, and a roof over my head. It took great sacrifice from my parents and grandparents to get our family into this place we call home, America. My mother grew up in Miami with her siblings and parents. As she got older, things started to change, and challenges started to arise. Her mother and father divorced, and her mother decided to move to Boston with my mom and her sister. My mother, who had hope for a better life, recalled the story of my grandfather, who without hope, would have never achieved his dream of a better life.

My grandfather grew up in Matanzas, Cuba, a communist country where if a person did not believe in the government, they would be imprisoned or killed. Growing up in an environment like this was very challenging, and it took a massive amount of tenacity to get through each day as my grandfather was against the communist government. By the age of thirty, my grandfather decided to make an escape with my uncle, who was only eight years old at the time. Under the cover of darkness, my grandfather built a small life raft and thought about nothing else other than the free land ahead. He paddled ahead in the direction of the Florida Keys, holding his eight-year-old son close through shark-infested waters. While paddling using all his strength, my grandfather could paddle no more until a coast guard found them halfway from the free land. This is where my grandfather found new life and hope. He found a job in Miami and met my Abuela, who had also escaped Cuba with her father, leaving her two brothers in hope of a better life.   

My mother tells me of my grandfather’s heroic acts to remind me of where I come from and what sacrifices the people who love me have made to give me a better life. Not only did my grandfather use habits of character, mind, and heart, but much like Elizabeth Schickel, he changed his perspective and thought of who he was staying strong for. My grandfather died at the age of 80 but had so many people around him who loved him and will cherish his heroic acts forever while being influenced by his story. This story changed my perspective on how I view the world from my safe desk at home. Now I know how challenging reality can be, and how strong we have to be to face it through our heart, mind, and character.

by Rachael Botelho ’26, Staff Writer