Over the past several months, I have had the privilege of studying abroad here in South Africa at the University of Cape Town learning about this country’s unique history and developing a better understanding of where it is and is going as a nation. I have heard so many of the stories of South Africans from so many different walks of life and shared experiences that have changed me forever and that I will cherish for a lifetime.

One of the most rewarding, beautiful things about being a lifelong learner is experiencing and witnessing the things you learn about for yourself – seeing in real life what you have learned from a professor, a book, or even a primary source. I am extremely grateful to be able to say that I have had this experience here.

I started out this semester reading news articles, scholarly journals, speeches, books, etc. concerned with the struggles and movements that have been on the rise here in South Africa and the type of rhetoric that has framed them in various ways. As amazing as it felt during that time to be in the same country where these things were happening all around me, in the past few weeks I have been afforded an even better feeling that has all but overwhelmed me!

I have been able to witness firsthand – literally standing in the middle – the power and breadth of such monumental South African struggles and movements. The recent university shutdowns that have occurred around the protests and demands that #FeesMustFall and calling to #EndOutsourcing has shown the power students, workers, people have when they stand up for what is right.

Certainly, I have heard or believed this for most of my life, but over the past few weeks I have seen it for myself. What I have found to be most true in all of this is that we must never compromise our truths, our morals, what is right for the false sense of security in the norm or status quo. It is important for us as more than just “college students” (or aspiring college students) but as growing, developing intellectuals to take responsibility of the knowledge that we possess. We must utilize the skills that we have to better the world and the community around us.

It is important to note that this fight has in large part been for children and families who do not have access to higher education in this country. This fight will one day soon allow so many children of this nation to be first generation students at universities across this country to better their own lives, those of their families, and surely those of their communities. Moreover, a number of the students leading this fight are indeed first generation students themselves. Thus, I encourage and remind you not to take the gift of knowledge for granted. It is a gift to be treasured deeply and shared widely.