Final Exam: In an opinion paragraph of 175 – 200 words, identify which of the Harris women, mother or daughter, is more remarkable. Support your answer.

     Over this fall term, I have been teaching an online advanced composition class to a diverse group of ten women, aged between 20 and 35, students at our local community college. A few are married with young children, a few divorced with young children, some married without children, and one or two who are single. These women come from around the world – Italy, Brazil, Peru, Palestine, the Dominican Republic, India, Taiwan, and Tunisia. Although they hail from a great diversity of cultures, they quickly bonded, for they have one thing in common: each of these women left their home country in their late teens/early twenties to emigrate to the United States for a better life, much as Shyamala Harris did, whose daughters she raised as a single mother in her adopted country and one of whom will soon serve as Vice President of the United States of America.

     For my students’ final exam, they had to summarize biographies of Shyamala and Kamala, reducing a 750-word document to about 300 words, a skill they had studied over the course of the semester. After this summary, my students were asked to decide, for themselves, which woman, Shyamala or Kamala, they admired the most. In this opinion paragraph, another structure studied during the semester, they had to support their decision.

     Teachers are usually dog-tired of grading by the close of the semester, and it is a struggle to get through that last set of exam papers. However, I could hardly wait to read my students’ paragraphs as I was curious not only which of the two women they would choose, but how they would support their answers. The first surprise, upon my first scrolling through the papers, was that each student chose Shyamala as the more remarkable women of the two. 

     However, each student had her own personal reasons for her choice. Several students, mothers themselves, recognized Shyamala’s challenge to raise two children entirely on her own without family around her for support following her divorce. For some, similar circumstances had been faced by their aunts in this country, aunts who had worked minimum wage jobs for years yet managed to put their children through college and then on to professional careers. However, another student noted that for her, she welcomed Shyamala breaking that stereotype of the immigrant mother who holds only minimum wage jobs and focusses on chores and family, never getting an education for herself. Another student who came here single with a job waiting for her felt her experiences as an immigrant seemed petty next to what Shyamala had experienced, ending that Shyamala’s story would inspire her whenever she became disheartened. 

     Several students were particularly impressed by Shyamala’s devotion to her own students, for whom she was continually available as a mentor and guide.  One of my students was moved to write a paragraph comparing her favorite ESL teacher, who is also one of my treasured colleagues, with Shyamala. Finally, my student from India compared Shyamala with her own grandmother, as both were born in India at about the same time. Her grandmother’s only option, at a very early age, was to marry, have children, and run a house. Shyamala’s story, she discloses, will serve as an inspiration to pursue her own dreams in her new country.

     In 2020, I have read daily accounts about the anxieties and horrors of COVID-19, grave concerns about what the future holds, and ominous forecasts of what 2021 will look like, leaving us wondering if life will ever be the same again. However, in my ESL classroom, my Zoom classroom no less, I am among young people full of hope and determination. These young immigrants are so appreciative to be in this country that if they do see our country’s problems, they certainly do not dwell on them.  Through reading their essays, I am allowed to see this country through their eyes, which is a future full of promise if they just work hard enough.  Shyamala has cleared a path for each of these women to follow. 

Wafa

    In my opinion, Shyamala Harris was a remarkable woman. She was a mother who devoted her life to support her daughters and help them in their lives. She divorced when her daughters were too young, but she determined to take care of them very well. My aunt had similar life to Shyamala’s life. She lived with her husband and their four children in Houston happily. However, her husband killed in his store and left her with four children facing the life alone. The oldest one was 14 years old, and the youngest was 3 years old. That was disaster for her and her children, but she did not lose hope. She determined to be a “mother” and a “father” for them. She started to work in his store and support her children in their lives until they grew up and graduated from their colleges. Everyone one of them support the other. All of them got married, and they have their jobs. They respect their mother and appreciate her a lot. I think the role that Shyamala Harris and my aunt had held deserves respect and admiration not only from her children but also from everyone in this world. They offered their lives for their children’s happiness and success.   

Dorina

     In my opinion, Shyamala Gopalan Harris is a remarkable woman because of her courage, her determination and passion as a woman. At a young age, she came to the United States. She encountered difficulties as an immigrant to adjust to a new culture. Her determination to reach her goals helped her to succeed in her career and life. I can relate somehow to Shyamala because I left my home country when I was very young and I moved to Ireland. I understand all the difficulties that she faced, like I did too, not only to adjust to a new culture, but also to find the strength to study and work like her. She also showed appreciation for different cultures. She was open-minded. She showed respect for people of different cultures. I feel connected with her because during my life, I have met people from all over the world. I became friends with some of them. I love sharing my experiences and my beliefs with them. Shyamala demonstrated devotion for her native Indian culture. In fact, she taught her values to her daughters. Like Shyamala, I have a strong connection with my Italian culture that as her, I give to my son. My thoughts about Shyamala are that she was a woman that showed determination and passion in everything she did in her life. 

Zineb 

    In my opinion, Shyamala Gopalan Harris is the most remarkable woman.  First, she came alone to America to study when she was only 19.  Despite all the challenges that she faces as an immigrant student, home sickness and racism, she remained determinative by getting her Doctorate and becoming one of the most brilliant breast cancer doctors. Second, Shyamala was a warrior single mother who raised her two daughters after getting her divorce. Although they were rejected by the community, she ensured to raise the confidence in them. She was a big inspiration for Kamala who became the first black woman winning the ticket of Vice President. Shyamala’s story reminded me of my friend Sara, an immigrant single mother of three children who came to America for economic opportunities. Sara and her children were bullied because of their heavy accent. She ended up by giving up on her American Dream and going back home. Shyamala’s story inspired me because she changed the idea of immigrant women who are viewed as immigrants focusing only on chores and their family.  Her journey, difficult and successful, is a part of a long history of independent immigrant women who do not give up easily.

Chafia 

     In my opinion, Shyamala Gopalan Harris is more remarkable.  She was an incredibly determined woman. She succeeded in her education and career. Her perseverance was notable. She worried about people and assisted them. I feel a strong connection between her and Miss Sirje Russell, who taught me ESL 41 and 52. She is one of the women that I consider remarkable, too. She traveled alone to the United States at the age of 19. Miss Russell immigrated from Europe to study.  It was a tough decision that required strength of character and plenty of courage.  As a foreign woman, she dreamed and believed in herself. Miss Russell occupied small jobs to survive. She studied the English language. She earned her degree and became an English teacher. Miss Russell cares about her family, and she is a great mother. In addition, Miss Russell enjoys helping her students in different ways. As foreign students, we found in her talks about her journey an incentive. She is an excellent example for her students. Consequently, we continue to achieve our dreams in this country and defeat all difficulties that may face us.

Chiara

In my opinion, Shyamala Gopalan is such a remarkable woman. She came across as a woman who was courageous, determined, and devoted to helping others. When Shyamala emigrated to the United States at a very young age, she showed a great amount of courage and determination. Determination also proved when she earned her Ph.D. I also love the fact that Shyamala was devoted to helping people in need, demonstrating a good heart and compassion. I can relate to her because I, too, emigrated to the United States when I was very young. However, I was fortunate to have my husband’s help in a country so different from mine. Like Shyamala, who had a love and devotion for helping others, I yearn for my passion of working to help animals. This passion took me where I am now. I might be a little late on my “life’s road map”; however, I know I am in the right place, with a foot in the door and a clear view of the road ahead. Although determined, moments of uncertainty may always be there to stop me, but I will keep Shyamala in mind, and remember that with inner strength and love, you can reach your goals.

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