The Dream lives

Posted on December 21, 2009

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In 1959 Helmy El-Sherif left Alexandria, Egypt, to study engineering at Michigan State University.  On December 21 he arrived on Pier 44 in New York City.  His great love affair with America began.  He got on a bus and made a long ride through the wintry landscape, fetching up on the campus in East Lansing.  “I made my first friend in America on December 24,” he says.  “We were shaving in the shower room at Armstrong Hall.”  He made many more friends over the years, and kept them because he tends his friendships like a garden.  He married his best friend, Charen, and they had two beautiful and accomplished children.  There are also two grandchildren who, Helmy assures me, are perfect in every way.  

Charen and Helmy built The Good Life, just like it says in the American Dream.  Helmy earned a PhD in electrical engineering from Michigan State, made a fine career at IBM, took a sabbatical to earn an MBA from Harvard, returned to IBM and eventually retired to travel the world and spoil his grandchildren.  He is an ardent Republican, a diligent fundraiser for Harvard University, a member of the Dutch Reformed Church.  All of this is completely astonishing unless you know Helmy, in which case it is perfectly understandable.  It also gives us plenty of fodder for debates, our favorite pastime over the years.

I thought you would like to know that the American Dream, as problematic and challenging as it may be, still lives.  It is a great myth, and like all truly great myths it has truth in it.  For Helmy and his family, it is simply their personal history.  Their story has many happy endings, and one great sadness.  Charen died of cancer several years ago.  She will be dearly missed today as Helmy stands on the pier in New York City once again, showing his daughter where it all began. 

Happy 50th Anniversary, my friend.

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