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  • Writer's pictureShehan Jeyarajah


My grandfather, Kenneth De Silva, passed away on July 12, 2020, after a brief illness. He's one of the greatest men who I've ever known and anyone who knew him would back me up. I wrote this essay when I applied to colleges in 2011 and wanted to share it. I like to think I've grown as a writer since then, but hopefully this will do him some justice.


Tough times don't last; tough people do. My grandfather is one of those tough


My grandfather, Kenneth De Silva, is one of the most inspiring and influential

people that I have ever met. He spent the first chapter of his life in Sri

Lanka, staying there until my mother was 12. In his time there, he worked hard

and became a relatively wealthy man in Sri Lanka. However in the late 70s, riots and

war were beginning to break out in Sri Lanka, and my grandfather thought it

would not be an environment appropriate to raise my mom and aunt.

So in 1981, my grandfather, who I call "Papa," left the life he knew and came to

America with nothing but his family and his faith. For months, he had trouble

finding work, even though he had been very qualified in Sri Lanka. Finally,

with the help of my grandmother who had been trained in Montessori education,

my grandfather opened a Montessori school in Austin.

At first, times were tough. The building my grandfather had bought as the

school room was, to put it nicely, a "work in progress." Every weekend, Papa

would drag his daughters and wife out of bed so they could paint the school,

clean the toilets, exterminate the classrooms, whatever glamorous jobs needed

to be done to keep the school running.

The only thing that kept Papa going was his love of his family and his faith in

God. I consider myself to be a religious person, and this is largely because of

Papa; the man's faith is nothing short of steadfast. It is inspirational to

find a man so much at peace with himself and the world around him.

Through his hard work and that of his family, the Northwest Montessori House of

Children has served Austin for years. In 2009, the school celebrated its

twenty-fifth anniversary, and received commendation from the mayor of Austin,

Governor Rick Perry, and the White House, an honor usually reserved for the

fiftieth anniversary.

Papa's life and story has been very influential in my life. From him, I get my

strong faith. Through his story, I also realize that life puts us in the

situations we need to be in. As well, his story is a wakeup call. Through faith

and hard work, an immigrant from Sri Lanka was able to make it in America. If

an immigrant from a third world country that came here with nothing can make it

in America, there is no excuse for me to give anything less than my all; that

has been Papa's greatest effect on me.

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