Anysaa El Manfaa tried community college immediately after high school, but a year later she was working at a bakery counter fulltime to meet the demands of life. An encounter with a customer became a turning point in her life. Making a sale to the fifty-something man who was in town to deliver a presentation at a convention, El Manfaa and the stranger ended up chatting about quantum physics and the concept of infinity.

As Susan Snyder’s article–BFfpZ-_uIXwq4fHNUtMaReoDor4ci8sxGrFTQDP3me-HSoPDIHY describes, the man, impressed with the young woman’s intellectual curiosity, took the time to speak with her. Of course, he did not know her story, but he saw something in her that made him extend himself.

“He had no idea El Manfaa lost her Moroccan father to deportation when she was 4, that she began working at age 13 to help her mother and two younger siblings, that she was bullied in school — or that she had tried college once and couldn’t handle it while juggling two jobs. All he saw was the promise in her.

“He reached into his pocket, pulled out a $50 bill, folded it, and slid it under her hand. ‘You shouldn’t be working in a bakery. You should be in a classroom,’ he told her.”


It didn’t take long for the young woman (pictured above, photos by David Maialetti)) to act on his advice. And this May, after completing Community College of Philadelphia’s honors curriculum and graduating with an AA degree, El Manfaa was awarded a Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship, which will propel her to Swarthmore College and the next steps in her educational journey.

That bakery interaction made a difference in a young woman’s life. Fortunately, she also connected with faculty in CCP’s now forty-year-old honors program/curriculum. Another key turning point. When I taught in CCP’s honors curriculum, I witnessed that sort of life-change again and again.

Consider the impact that the unknown man’s gesture made in El Manfaa’s life. He acted on an impulse. And consider the impact of the honors faculty on her, and, no doubt, of her fellow honors students. Significant change happened there, but it might not have happened were it not for one stranger’s bold kindness.

For El Manfaa, having that second opportunity—that second chance—made all the difference. She recognizes the role played by the unknown booster in her life, and we should too.

Let’s not ignore the impact of Susan Snyder’s beautifully written article, either. Surely, many people have read her piece, and I hope that because of my post here (AND YOUR SHARES), even more folks will read it too. Readers or friends and family members of readers might well become inspired to do something with their potential. Like the kind stranger, the college faculty, and the journalist, we all can play a role in boosting others toward making the most of their lives. In the end, it benefits all of us.

Higher education plays a critical role in creating opportunity for individuals who otherwise might not succeed, but it’s not the only option or the best one for everyone. What works for this remarkable young woman may not work for other people. It’s about opportunity and fit. Next week, I’ll write about the importance of supporting other kinds of resources.


Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the “Turning Points” weekly blog on City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction. Bachus’s article, “Learning From Turning Points in Our Teaching Lives,” was featured in the May issue of NEA Higher Education Advocate, which reaches over 150,000 college faculty in the U.S.