Among the hundreds of students who will be receiving their degrees at the Stellenbosch University (SU) December 2018 graduation ceremonies, starting on 10 December, will be 27-year-old Xolani Hadebe.
After matriculating at his rural school in Piet Retief, Xolani had his heart set on becoming a doctor, even though he had no idea how tough getting there was going to be. He soon became immune to receiving rejection letters from all the medical schools in the country but he never gave up on his dream.
“After being rejected so many times, I knew there was no way my mom, who has been a domestic worker all her life, could afford to pay for my university studies, so I secured a job as a till packer at our local Spar supermarket," he says.
For Xolani, working at the supermarket was one of the hardest things that he has ever done because he had to pack groceries for his former classmates. At times, he would go and hide so that they did not see or pity him for working at a grocery store while they continued with their studies.
A sum of money from his salary went towards saving for his university application. His hard work did earn him a promotion as a cashier, however, which made things a little easier for him financially and he no longer had to walk to work.
“I had to humble myself and focus on what was really important to me and, at the time, it was ensuring that I got accepted to study medicine. It was a tough time for me because I was happy for my friends but, at the same time, I was forced to take a gap year and I had no idea why."
Being one of the top performing students throughout his academic life, the rejections came as a very nasty surprise to him, especially when no one could give him a tangible reason for not being accepted.
That same year, Xolani took it upon himself to travel to Medunsa in Pretoria to get feedback on his application. He adds: “I will never forget the day I travelled to Pretoria to seek answers for my unsuccessful application and no acknowledgment letter for my application. I got there late in the afternoon because transport issues."
He says that he had to approach campus security guards, who offered him a place to sleep for the night, and that they played cards for most of the night before Xolani passed out on one of the chairs. The experience taught him a lot about respect and helping others when you have nothing to gain from it.
At the time, Xolani had no idea that SU existed. “I was excited when my friend asked me if I had tried applying at SU and I was ecstatic when I was accepted from the word go."
He admits that moving to SU was not easy. Language, culture shock and coming from a disadvantaged school added to his stress because he had to work extra hard to grasp things. His English speaking ability was limited.
Xolani is the fourth of six children and the first in his family to graduate. He will do his community service internship at a hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, which is closer to home.