Choosing his own adventure
Kigen Chepkonga has been in boarding since the age of 11. A more chipper, broad-minded and relational boy you could not hope to meet.
Durban-born to a Kenyan dad and a Zulu mom, Kigen (now 17) came to Hilton in Grade 8 from the Drakensberg Boys Choir School, where his boarding school journey began in Grade 4.
“Boarding teaches you independence,” Kigen says. “No one’s going to remind you to go to meals or brush your teeth or make your bed or study for that test.
“You have to develop a personal drive and learn communication. If you’re uncomfortable, it’s about learning to tell those around you. You learn problem-solving skills and conflict resolution very fast.”
With both parents in the medical profession – dad is an emergency-care plastic surgeon and mom works for a medical technology company – Kigen says his family values curiosity, kindness and inclusivity.
“My family is interesting in that my dad doesn’t speak Zulu and my mom doesn’t speak Swahili. They speak English to each other and to my brother and I. In South Africa today, that can be controversial. But my parents look past the barriers of language and nationality to dig deeper into who people are.”
Kigen says that his loved ones are scattered geographically but “tight”, relationally. “Our together times are the best of times. There’s lots of cooking and eating.”
Describing as “eye-opening” his six weeks on exchange at Charlotte Latin School, in North Carolina, Kigen says going to a co-ed day school, where learners wear civvies and drive to school took him out of his comfort zone.
Kigen now wants to study in the USA. “I’d like to become an actuary. I’m very interested in maths and economics; economics is my favourite subject by far…. It doesn’t feel all theoretical and high-minded.
“Living in the most unequal nation in the world, I can’t help but think about how we can use economics to make this country better.”
When a non-profit came to Hilton College to introduce to the boys their programme for homeless people, Kigen says he was moved in his heart before he started to think about this social crisis from an economics point of view.
“The lady from Life Boat told us how she was driving down the road with her husband, and a homeless person on the streets of Pietermaritzburg was being obscene in public. Rather than judging, she said, ‘When you have nothing more to lose, that stuff doesn’t matter.’
“Up here, life couldn’t be better. And there is suffering just down the road. I grapple with that. I see economics as the solution to issues such as this.”
Not one to complain, Kigen’s life hasn’t been without its struggles. He suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
Almost all of his hobbies – from rowing to hockey to piano – place strain on his joints. “It’s not great for fingers, back and hips. But I’m grateful we found it early. I’m hopeful. I’m still young, and it’s just something I have to manage.”
Reflecting on what Hilton College has given him, he says: “I think Hilton College is whatever a boy makes of it. There’s so much to do; so many things to conquer; you can choose your own adventure. It has been excellent for me.”