The elevator doors opened on our way down. Six effervescent young women entered. One, recognizing me, said with a laugh, “We’re WICKED.”

I knew WICKED was a new student group. I asked what the acronym stood for.

“Women Integrating Culture, Knowledge and Ethnic Diversity.”

The doors opened again, and five of the six women left, continuing their cheerful discussions. One woman remained. As the doors closed, I turned and introduced myself.

“Today is my lucky day,” she said, “I have been wanting to meet the president.”

I smiled involuntarily, not letting the apparent flattery overwhelm my sense that some type of request was coming my way. It came quickly.

“Do you have some time to talk now?”

I was late for a dinner appointment, but told the student that if she did not mind walking with me, I’d be happy to talk to her. She told me she would walk until Madison, where she needed to catch her bus west.

“My name is Catherine, and I wanted to talk to you about re-instating the payment plan for international students. As you know, international students pay a great deal more than Chicago residents in tuition, and we are not eligible for financial aid. The payment plan enabled me to budget for my semester, but without it, I will be unable to register for classes and INS will have no choice but to deport me. As an SGA senator, it is my duty to speak up on behalf of my fellow international students. As an institution that pledges ‘access AND success,’ I believe reinstatement of the plan is critical for us.”

I was aware of the issue. Our Executive Director, Kent, was working with District to see what we could work out. I told Catherine I was sympathetic to her plight, and that Kent was working on it. Had she spoken to him? She had not.

With three blocks left until we hit Madison, I asked her where she was from.

“Haiti,” she said.

What do you want to study?

“Civil Engineering. I want to gain the necessary skills so that I can help re-build my country.”

We talked some more, about her country and her commitment. We talked about Harold Washington. As we hit Madison, I handed her my card. Please email me, I asked, so that I can get your contact information and make you aware of any developments. She did email me, expanding on the points she made during our hurried walk, and I forwarded the email to Kent so that he could further bolster his case.

Today, I emailed Catherine that the payment plan has been reinstated.

Thanks to Kent, who made me aware of the issue and did the leg work to demonstrate that the financial impact of reinstating the payment plan was de minimus. Thanks to Preston and the rest of the folks at District for listening and changing the policy.

And thanks most of all to Catherine, for her courage to speak up and for her trust in Harold Washington College to provide her with the education necessary to help her re-build her country.

Let us honor that trust.

Happy Thanksgiving.



Published by Don Laackman

Leader with non-profit, higher education, and private-sector consulting experience.

4 thoughts on “Thanksgiving

  1. Oh Thank you Thank you Thank you……There are so many like Catherine who are too timid to speak up for themselves………I’m sorry I didn’t see this sooner….It brings tears to my eyes……

    and to season the season with deepest gratitude from all of us in the International Student Office……… If you’re really Santa Claus, you can get it for me. And if you can’t, you’re only a nice man with a white beard like mother says. (Susan…..Miracle on 34th Street)

    I think we have found Santa Claus……

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