Lessons on Living


Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.

~ Maya Angelou


Aging in Place

This college application essay was written by Andrei Stoica, when he was a teenager. For context, his mother shared it with me one afternoon during a long discussion about eldercare as a business and the immigrant experience in America. Alina, owns a foster care home in one of the most desired suburban neighborhoods near Portland, Oregon. She and her husband arrived from Romania with $1000 and the American Dream.

The Stoica family has achieved more than most American families, which is not uncommon for hardworking people with a dream for a better life coming to this country. Andrei attended the most prestigious private school in Portland (middle school through high school ), and this remarkable essay reflects his experience. Its remarkable for a number of reasons, first, he is a young man from an immigrant family without the financial and social support of the privileged peers around him. And secondly, his parents run a live-in care home for the elderly.

I read the piece with such delight and reverence for this young man’s life experience—which I don’t wish to compare with others of his generation but cannot fail to see the contrast. I have heard similar stories from parents who came to America to make a life by sacrificing for the next generation and I have nothing but admiration for them.

Themes that emerge

  • Love
  • Humility
  • Pride in caring meaningful work
  • Being awake to the lessons of elders
  • Courage to act on what really matters in life

Lessons on Living

I hate the sound of my alarm clock. I’ve tried changing it to songs, happy cheers, but every time I begin to despise the sound. I put on my glasses. It is 5:50, my regular wake-up time during the school year. As I make my bed, I make a mental checklist of things I need to do this morning – brush my teeth, don’t forget anything in my backpack, etc. Then I begin to smell it.

The smell of an accident from a new resident in our Adult Care Home, my family’s main source of income, isn’t new to me. It’s seeped in my nostrils many times over the years, and I usually inform my mom about it as I get ready for school. Today, however, I let her sleep in; we’d both had a rough night, as the new resident with dementia was calling out for her long-dead parents all night. I grabbed the special wipes we use, got on my knees, and cleaned up the area around the toilet.

My parents, who moved to the USA in 1998 with $1,000 loaned and Green Cards to their name, have given up everything to further my education. My dad’s back still hurts from his days working construction and paper printing – they were the only employers that would hire him because of his initially limited English-speaking abilities. My mom had to give up her dream of transferring her nursing degree from Romania and became a home-based medical transcriptionist, as daycare was impossibly expensive. When confronted with the staggering tuition of the progressive private-school I had earned admission into, my parents started our Adult Care Home, named Golden Years.

Since our family business depends on at least one of my parents at all times, my parents have had to take turns seeing their son succeed: they switch off going to my team’s two city-wide robotics tournaments before we usually travel to the regional, and then world competitions. Only my dad could make it to my quarterfinal run at the state tennis tournament, while only my mom could see me receive my German DSDII diploma. Both only heard stories about my last summer, when I worked for a special fund in a fancy downtown building, won a global prize in entrepreneurship, and taught a summer camp by myself on “innovation.”

While my parents have no prestigious degrees framed in their home offices, seeing them grow into their version of the American Dream has taught me that I will find success if I keep working hard. Even though my family can barely afford tuition today, I have the toolkit to hopefully donate millions as an alumnus! Although my family hasn’t enjoyed a vacation in Hawaii every summer (my mom’s actual dream is to finally go one day), I can say that the few days off with my family when we hire a relief caregiver for the day have taught me lessons about the delicacy of time.  When I return home that evening and see our long-time resident Dorothy folding laundry for the fifth time that day (she has bad dementia), Harriet doing exercises with her walker at the age of 104, and smell my mom cooking dinner, I feel at home. I learned about Hermie’s youth in post WWII Germany while composing a puzzle with her, and about Annie’s trailblazing career as an executive in 1980s Silicon Valley.

The continuous stream of residents that live and die in our home have taught me the purest lessons on the human condition: from suffering, crying, and dying, to powering through obstacles with ecstatic joy and living life to the fullest. Every day, before I leave for school, my mom, just waking up, groggily says: “Be good and make me proud, Andrei!” Everything I have learned these past eighteen years will allow me to do just that.



A 97-Year-Old Philosopher Faces His Own Death 



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