This column isn’t a political polemic. It’s a personal reflection based on my experience working as a mentor and philanthropist with Portland-area immigrant high school students. That experience has not only opened my eyes to their promise and potential but also has changed my life. For the better.

This is old news for my wife, whose 30-year career as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in the Kennebunk School District “shaped and defined my life in ways I never would have imagined, in ways for which I feel incredibly lucky. It has enriched my life immensely, and I don’t regret one minute of it.” She spoke these words as the featured speaker at a citizenship ceremony.

She also told this group of soon-to-be new Americans: “I often hear Maine described as a very monocultural state, but it has never looked that way to me … you are as diverse as America itself. You came from many places in the world … I know that you came here for many reasons … I know your journey wasn’t easy … and I know you did not come to this country empty-handed. You brought your unique gifts and your unique stories.”

What they also brought was their unique energy, “immigrant energy,” a phrase you hear frequently in the liberal, multicultural world. But here’s what the conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens said back in September: “We don’t just need immigrants to fill jobs – we also need their ambition, entrepreneurialism, work ethic, cultural creativity, strong family values and non-entitled attitudes.”

Four years ago we lost our son, John, to a tragic accident. He was 39. Thanks to the creativity and support of friends, family and colleagues, a special program we call the Rising Tide Leadership Award rose like a phoenix out of the ashes of our loss. Its purpose was twofold: to honor the life and passions of our son, and to provide life-changing pre-college summer experiences to ambitious students from immigrant families in Maine.

Since the program was created, we have awarded eight students each a $5,000 grant to travel to various university campuses across the country to participate in summer programs designed to prepare them for college entry and future careers in medicine, law, art, science, research and social activism. When we conceived the program, my wife said she wanted it to be “a life-changing experience” for these immigrant students. Their comments, upon returning from their one- to two-week sojourns, dramatically attest to the life-changing possibilities of this program.


“It was really beautiful! Working alongside university professors and doctors was a very important experience for me. I discovered another scientifically exciting world,” wrote Jose Sasenga, from Angola.

Sophia Kapita, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, wrote to say, “Without it [Rising Tide] I wouldn’t have met such awesome people … words can’t describe how joyful this program made me feel.”

The German novelist, poet and painter Herman Hesse said, “I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad future may come our way, we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”

But it’s not what we’ve done that’s important, it’s what these students are doing – and will do in their future lives and careers. They come to Maine from all over the world, and they face many challenges, from risking their lives to living in refugee camps to learning a new language and culture.

They survive, they persevere and they succeed. Once here and in school, they tend to be active in extracurricular activities, from playing sports (many are masterful soccer players) to writing in The Telling Room (and, boy, do they have stories to tell); from participating in student government to performing in the Multicultural Chorus – to name just a handful of their many out-of-classroom pursuits.

In many ways, these young people personify the best hope for our country’s future. Immigrant energy. An energy that is changing the world. For the better.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.