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Saints on the Hill: Turning Grief into Joy

Saints on the Hill: Turning Grief into Joy

Anyone chatting with Assistant Director of Admission Emmanuel “Manny” Chinyumba would never guess that he has experienced so much grief in his recent past. He is ever-smiling, unfailingly enthusiastic, and full of life—but thanks to recent revelations during his Saints on the Hill presentation, our students not only saw another side of Manny; they learned how he came back from dealing with loss to become the positive person he is today.

“I was this happy-go-lucky kid. I had it all going for me,” Manny told the students at School Meeting. “But sometimes life throws curveballs at you; it does not prepare you for the unexpected moments.” 

One of those moments was losing his sister Joy, who passed away in the summer of 2022. It started out as a hectic day when, on the way to his job at the time, he dropped his phone and car keys into a sewer grate. He had to rush back inside, boot up his laptop, and inform his boss he was unable to make it to work. What he did not realize at first was that, at the same time, his grandmother was trying to Facetime him from the Congo.

“She almost never uses Facetime. I knew something was going on,” Manny recalled. “That is when she gave me the news. Afterward, I could not really speak to anybody and did not even want to do any of the things I enjoyed anymore. I took about three weeks off from work. I had no blueprint, no direction.”

Unfortunately, his sister’s death was not Manny’s first experience with grief, nor would it be his last. About a year and a half prior, he lost a good friend and co-worker who had been “struggling with some mental health issues and left us here on this earth.” And most recently, in October 2023, a former high school classmate lost a battle with cancer. The events all weighed heavily on him.

“I had no idea where to go and how to make sense of these things,” he said. “I grew up with an assuredness and a certainty that I could do and be anything that I wanted, and I still hold that same optimism to this day. However, these experiences sometimes made it a little difficult to get up in the morning or do my job.”

So Manny began developing coping mechanisms and strategies, and words of wisdom from his mother helped start the healing process. “My mom, being the strong individual that she is, told me, ‘You have to think about it in this way…every day, life is a gift. Do not sit around and let opportunities pass you by. Life is what you make of it.’” 

Even though he was often hit with reminders of what once was, Manny came to realize that such occurrences became smaller over time with the support of family, friends, and even new acquaintances who had similar experiences. “Hearing their stories made me feel less alone,” he shared. “It is important for us to be able to talk through those conversations, no matter how difficult. Such things are inevitable to life, but you can always find joy in little things.”

Today, Manny looks to share that philosophy with others. “I always encourage this with my brothers and friends. Tell me about your day and what is going on. What made you happy? What brought you sadness this week? The idea is to create meaningful relationships that bring us joy and comfort in our everyday lives. These are the things that I started to look forward to and strive for, and I found my level of joy—pun intended!”

In closing, Manny encouraged students to do the same. “Everything you do and say has an impact on others—and it is your choice to make it positive,” he told them. “We are very fortunate to come to this school every day. With all the twists and turns and unexpected things that will happen in your life, know that you are prepared. You have a community behind you, a faculty and staff to support you, and family and friends back home. I hope you find your joy, whatever that is.”