If you haven’t read it yet, you should check out Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column on Tererai Trent, who went from being an “an illiterate, battered cattle-herd in Zimbabwe ” with one year of elementary school to the recipient of a Ph.D from Western Michigan University.

She was able to pull off this miracle because she is tenacious, extremely intelligent, and hard-working. But some credit also has to go to the aid group that passed through her village, inspiring her to pursue her education. Trent’s parable is important, both an affirmation of and a rebuttal to notions of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps. Yes, it can be done, but no, it is not easy (or, sometimes, possible) without some help from somewhere.

It’s a lesson that we don’t need to go across the Atlantic to apply.

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Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.