Alex van Schalkwyk ’19 Speaks of Resilience

Alex van Schalkwyk

Alex van Schalkwyk ’19 at school meeting.

Last Wednesday, Alex Van Schalkwyk talked about resilience. He related his topic to his personal life and how being resilient helped him through his hard times.  Van Schalkwyk’s talk was part of “Ask Me Anything,” Northwood’s weekly speaker series for students and faculty, presented Mr. Martinez and the Office of Multicultural Affairs each Wednesday. This year’s theme is “Gaining Perspective.”

What follows is the transcript of his speech:

Good afternoon, my name is Alex van Schalkwyk. I’m from Cape Town, South Africa, and today, as part of the speaker series on perspective, I am going to be talking about resilience and how this has helped me to overcome challenges in my life. For those of you who don’t know, resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from challenges.

In my younger days I had a very comfortable life. I lived in a beautiful area, my parents were doing very well, and I always had what I needed. There was never a time where I was at a disadvantage because of my situation at home. Because of this, life was easy, and I always thought that when I get older that things would be the same.

However, things changed very quickly. My situation at home took a turn, and this was due to financial issues. My mother left her job to study and my father was having issues with his job. This brought about a tough time for my family. We landed up moving 7 times in 18 months, and I was faced with challenges that I’d never come across before. Things like not having much food or having to worry about how much electricity is being used around the house. Many of the things I took for granted.

It made life frustrating. Not having simple things like internet and a computer made school more difficult, and the thought of money was always at the back of my mind. It hurt me to see my mother sell everything even her wedding ring so that we could make it through the month. My parents had to make incredible sacrifices for us, and this is something thing I will always admire. I didn’t understand why all if this was happening and why it had to happen to us.

I asked myself many questions during this time, but one of the most important questions I asked myself was, “what are you going to do about this?” There were many answers to this question. The easiest ones requiring very little inner strength. I easily could have felt sorry for myself, but I decided not to. I decided that I wasn’t going to let this get the better of me, because everyone goes through tough times, but only the toughest people make something positive out of these tough times. I wanted to make my parents proud especially because of the sacrifices that they were making. I felt that I had the responsibility to pay them back in that way.

This required a lot of emotional growth. I wasn’t used to having to dig deep inside myself to succeed. Like I said, things were always so easy for me. This growing process wasn’t easy because everyday there would be a new challenge in front of me. Things at home kept getting tougher, and it got to a point where I went to live at my friend’s house for the last 6 months of my senior year to get away from all the distractions.

Although everything seemed to be falling apart, I didn’t give up. I gave my best at everything that I did whether it was schoolwork or soccer. The funny thing is that during this tough time, I was performing better at school and on the field because of my attitude. All the hard work was starting to pay off and although things stayed tough, my hard work always put a smile on my parents faces.

The perfect example of a reward that I got for my effort was being accepted to The Northwood School. I never would have thought this possible looking at all the barriers that were stopping me, but in the end it all worked out. It worked out because I didn’t allow adversity to get the better of me. I was able to find resilience within myself. Resilience that kept me going when it was so easy to give up.

I learnt many things because of this experience. I learnt that I should never take things for granted and that life can change at any moment. I learned the value of self-belief and that I should never give up on myself regardless of my situation. Most importantly I learned that when I fight for what I want, that I will always get something out of it. I grew so much because these lessons, and I want to encourage any of you that is going through a tough time to always believe that you are strong enough to get through it. We are what we make out of life, and if we always have a good attitude, we achieve things beyond what we think possible.


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