In this blog post, scholarship-recipient-turned-scholar-supporter Ravindra Reddy ’90 brings to life how one act of kindness can change the world. His inspiring and heartfelt remarks, which chart his father’s journey from India to Haverford, and demonstrate the power of access to education, were delivered at the third annual Scholarship Luncheon.
The Best Education Possible: My Father’s Story
This story takes place in 1940-something. It is the story of a 10-year-old boy in a remote village in India. One very hot day, this little boy – of what we would consider fourth-grade-age here in the U.S. – walked and hitched rides from bull cart drivers all day long. The roads were dirty and there were dead bodies along the side of the streets, since there was an outbreak of cholera at the time. This little boy was scared. But he was determined to get home, so he kept going. He made it home just after nightfall. Surprised to see him, his mother took him in, gave him a bath, fed him, and put him to bed. All without a word. She woke him up at 4 a.m. to put him on the next bus back to the village he just arrived from … back to living in a home where he was treated like a servant and made to eat “outcast” food, back to attending an English Medium school far, far away from home.
Fast forward 50 years. That little boy, my father, finally asked my grandmother how she could have done something like that to her own son, without even asking what was so bad that he ran away to come home. She answered, “If I asked you, you would have cried. I would have cried and I would not have sent you back and that, my son, was not an option.” He understood and forgave her because it turns out he had figured out his mission early on … he wanted to be able to make change in the world.
That was the beginning of his education, which was the best education possible, given his circumstances. This foundation ultimately paved the path for much, much more. Through just the right combination of great teachers, mentors, ambition, and a bit of scrappiness thrown in, through perseverance, a little luck, and a dream, he graduated from Michigan State University with a Ph.D. in Philosophy – a far cry from that 10-year-old illiterate boy from a small village in India.
My father became a philosophy professor and library director at Cheyney University and was able to bring his brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces to the United States, educate them, and send them into life with all the tools to succeed, to live a good life, and to help people around them by becoming doctors, engineers, and businessmen and women. It all stemmed from the best possible education, given his circumstances.
That story is of the ripple effect of one act of a mother’s sacrifice and a son’s reluctant willingness to comply, and how it positively impacted hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. That story is a prelude to my own story, and how opportunity changed my trajectory and many next to me and after me.
“My father became a philosophy professor and library director at Cheyney University and was able to bring his brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces to the United States, educate them, and send them into life with all the tools to succeed.”
Ripple Effect: My Story
Although I never had a chance to hitch a ride with a bull cart like my father, I have also been incredibly blessed with amazing people throughout my life. Knowing that education was the driving force for his escape from that small village in India and for the success of his entire family for generations, his one mandatory goal was to give me and my sister the best education possible. So, in 1984, he walked into Wilson Hall and had me apply to The Haverford School, knowing that Haverford would provide his son with the best education possible.
Regardless of the fact that he couldn’t afford Haverford’s tuition, he was determined not only to get me admitted but to attend The Haverford School, knowing that it would give me the best opportunity to succeed in life. I guess that after his journey, he had faith that the tuition hurdle could be overcome. He was right! Thanks to generous philanthropists, both my sister and I received scholarships to attend Agnes Irwin and Haverford.
“Reflecting on my educational experiences, it is crystal clear that the intense leadership skills that I learned within the walls of Haverford helped to ignite a fire in my belly.”
Reflecting on my educational experiences, it is crystal clear that the intense leadership skills that I learned within the walls of Haverford helped to ignite a fire in my belly. Combined with the strong technical curriculums at The University of Texas, New York University, and Columbia University, this propelled me professionally. I am certain that the ability to read, write and speak well, learned in the classrooms at Haverford, was the catalyst for my career.
Both my father and Coach Jack MacMullan repeated over and over, “you can do anything if you put your mind to it.” Whether it was beating Episcopal Academy on EA Day in 1989 down 20 points at halftime, starting my own construction firm right before 9/11/01, rebuilding my firm after the economic crisis of 2008, or battling daily the ferocious New York City real estate, I frequently use this advice to motivate me. I am grateful to both of them every day; by consistently pushing beyond expectations, and developing grit and persistence, I accomplished my aspirations. I wouldn’t be here today if my father didn’t set his mind on Haverford for me.
“I really feel in my heart that with all the tools and mentoring that were handed to me that it is my calling to change the world on a macro level.”
Paying it Forward
Supportive family and mentors, a world class education both in the classroom and professional arena, and the opportunity to have traveled extensively inspire me to take this gift and create my own ripple effect – to pay it forward to individuals with less opportunities.
I really feel in my heart that with all the tools and mentoring that were handed to me that it is my calling to change the world on a macro level.
Recognizing this passion and life mission, I began to get involved with many charities throughout the world about 15 years ago. It was important to me to understand NGO and charity operations in order to one day operate one myself.
I have built houses in Uganda, mentored in orphanages in India, built schools and community centers in South Africa and Nicaragua, and built water wells in Burundi. These projects have become my second jobs and enable me to enjoy the almost selfish fulfillment of giving.
“It is a fact that none of this would have been possible – the ripple effect would not have occurred – without those generous donors who gave me the opportunity to attend Haverford and get not only a world-class education but also the confidence, skills, and tools necessary to succeed.”
It is a fact that none of this would have been possible – the ripple effect would not have occurred – without those generous donors who gave me the opportunity to attend Haverford and get not only a world class education but the confidence, skills, and tools necessary to succeed.
So, it is a fact that scholarship donors are not just helping an individual student.
They are responsible for Indian orphans getting an opportunity to succeed.
They are responsible for families in Uganda having housing.
They are responsible for fresh water for mothers and babies in Burundi.
They are responsible for children of the Maasai tribe in Tanzania getting an education and having an opportunity where there was none before.
They are responsible for bringing social, cultural, and economic diversity to Haverford, helping the School stay true to its mission of preparing boys for life.
Ravindra Reddy ’90 founded Citistructure, a construction and real estate development firm, in March 2001. Reddy holds a B.S. in civil engineering from The University of Texas at Austin, an M.S. in civil engineering from NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, and a Construction Management Certification from Columbia University. He is also involved on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including Common Threadz, which builds schools in developing countries, and Miracle Foundation, which serves parentless children around the world. Reddy is also a member of The Haverford School’s Board of Trustees.