There's an old proverb from Lao Tzu: “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” In most cases, we are quick to undertake that pilgrimage alone. But for Dannah Mahmoud, a 2015 graduate of Lawrence D Bell High School in Hurst, the journey began with thousands of single steps, all taken by men and women she barely knew and all traced back to an English teacher's suggestion that she apply for a scholarship.
The Dr Gene Buinger Scholarship, which supports college-bound graduates of HEB ISD schools, is funded by 6 Stones through the Run for Hope. Last May, 2,580 men and women from North Texas lined up to run it, raising $40,082 in support of HEB ISD initiatives from supply drives to scholarships. Every step they took was a step for Dannah and students like her.
“I've always wanted to be a doctor,” she recalled in the early portion of our interview. “Since I was really little, that was the only thing I've ever leaned toward. I really want to be a pediatrician because I enjoy kids a lot.”
Few vocations are as notoriously expensive in the early years as the medical practice, which requires years of expensive education and even more time in low-income training and development programs.”This year, before the scholarship, I was so extremely stressed,” Dannah said when asked to put the support in context, “this extra $2,500 helps so much more than anybody could ever know.”
“This extra $2,500 helps so much more than anybody could ever know.”
Hospital residency and the corporate ladder are the last things on Dannah's mind, however. “After graduation, the first thing I would love to do is participate in the Doctors Without Borders program,” Dannah said. “Africa, Asia, India… whatever comes my way, I'll be more than happy to go, no matter where.”
Asked to explain her medical wanderlust, Dannah was quick to point out that Americans, on the whole, are relatively healthy and that third-world and war-torn countries are plagued by preventable deaths. All that's needed is a bit of skill and knowledge and a few supplies. For her, making a difference is more important than making a dollar.
“I want to be a successful person, not only in terms of monetary value but also in doing something that is really rewarding and helping others,” she said. “Being a doctor would be so worth it, especially if you're helping people that really need the help.”
Certainly, the years of schooling and sacrifice in front of Dannah dwarf the miles and kilometers logged by runners and volunteers at Run for Hope. But their connection; their unified spirit, cannot be overlooked. Every step taken in May was a step taken to help someone in need. It's tough to find healing without a doctor, and tough to be a world-traveling doctor with debt as baggage.
College, then, becomes the starting line of a marathon toward purpose; a race that simply cannot be run alone. As Dannah's final semester in high school ended and the last summer of pre-college life approached, she and a series of strangers who hardly knew her took over 2,500 first steps toward a better world. And those steps led to momentum.
The eldest daughter in a family of seven, Dannah plans to pass along the gift of education by inviting her family to join her on campus when possible. “My sister is going into high school this year,” she noted, “I'm definitely going to give her some life advice when it comes to college and academics.”
Along with her 15-year-old sibling come two brothers (13 and 11) and another, 7-year-old sister, all of who will be invited to visit. Her father, an engineer at Lockheed Martin with a Master's degree from LSU, is welcome to tag along, but Dannah's mother might be the guest of honor.
“My mom is everything to me. She's my best friend. She's my hero. She inspires me so much,” Dannah reflected. “She went to school in Louisiana and she got her Bachelor's Degree… she's a stay-at-home Mom right now, but she's planning on going back to school.”
“My mom is everything to me. She's my best friend. She's my hero. She inspires me so much.”
“Maybe we can go to med school together,” she joked.
Perhaps it's wishful thinking or revisionist history to presume that lives will be changed because of the way this community rallied to support one young girl who dreams one day of traveling the world. Perhaps it's too early to say that this singular scholarship impacts 5 children in a developing family. Perhaps it's wrong to claim that some 213 volunteers and 2,580 athletes can share credit for a fragment of the things Dannah will do as a Doctor Without Borders and later as a pediatrician here in the United States.
But perhaps doing so discounts the way in which we were designed to live, work and serve together.
When looking toward the future through the lens of the past, we must remember that no actions are small if we let them become what they want to be. As easy as a few hours of exercise and as small as a few thousand dollars toward education may seem in the grand scheme, we must remember that Lao Tzu is often quoted incompletely.
“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small,” says the ancient Chinese philosopher.
“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”