Guys. I graduate SATURDAY. It’s completely surreal- I feel nothing. Still, in honor of that fact, I’m writing this post today. It may come of as a little…self-praising, but stick with me here.
*earlier this semester*
It’s Sunday, and for the first time that month I’ve managed to drag myself to church. I carpooled with two freshmen that I am friends with. I kinda consider myself their big sister, but I don’t expect them to see me that way. I adopt a lot of freshmen. In a way, I feel like it’s my job to help any young woman who needs it, so I don’t consider myself special to them.
It has been a semester from hell- taking on two executive positions, a job, and a full class load while trying to confront mental health was a stupid idea. So I’m just trying to get some Jesus time to help me through it all, but I don’t want my little sisters to know. I have to try to be a role model, right? That’s what leaders, especially women of color, are supposed to do. So I keep it all smiles.
Then, on the way back, they tell me something: we just want you to know that we really look up to you. You’re our role model. If you can make it through school, so can we.
That moment changed everything for me. First of all, it was humbling as hell- it’s one thing to act like people are looking up to you as a way of making sure you always represent yourself well, it’s a completely different thing to find out you’re someone’s mentor. But, more importantly, it made me stronger and more honest. If these girls, who are also first generation college students and struggling, look up to me, I can’t make this look easy.
One of these girls went to my high school, so we have a unique understanding of one another. I’d met only one other person from BHS at my college (Thank God- different story) and no one from a high school with a similar cultural experience. Where were the other kids who came from a poor, suburban school that was less than 20% White? I guess they all went to different schools. Anyways, I say this to say that we lived close enough to carpool back home. And we had a long conversation about her school, her fears, and insecurities. It’s terrifying to talk to someone and know all they want is for you to say “I know you can do it” when you know they might not. Her struggles with coursework were beyond privilege, she was fighting against a system that was only interested in people who could keep up. And she couldn’t. So I asked her if she wanted a degree or that profession, and confessed that I had switched majors, not because I realized I didn’t like history, but because I realized I couldn’t do it. It isn’t exactly something I tell a lot of people, there is a certain amount of shame in not being able to perform your passion, but I have ADHD and the way mine manifests- historical research is simply impossible. I told her that. I said “if you want to be a nurse, you’re gonna be a nurse, and if you want a degree, you’ll get one, but you might not be able to do those at the same time, so if you want that, you better be ready to work for it. Find the resources you need and use them. Barrow study books, go to tutoring- do what it takes,” because that’s the truth. She is smart, determined, and passionate, but she might not be ready for the coursework ahead. And she took that challenge and ran with it. She has no intentions of being left behind, and I’d like to think that being upfront about her challenge ultimately helped her confidence and game plan.
Since this has been my last semester, I’ve had a couple of those people tell me they looked up to me, which is insane because I literally almost died my first two years (different story). My college journey has been filled with frustration, fights, tears, and challenges (also unicorns, rum, roadtrips, and laughter). And while I try to put a smile on, people who know me will tell you my face is very expressive. It’s no secret when I’m about to hit someone (I mean, I don’t but I want to). So why me?
I don’t know the answer to that question. But what I want you guys to take away is this: be strong, you never know who you are inspiring.
And being strong doesn’t mean always smiling, it means persevering and/or doing the right thing. And those two aren’t always the same. Being strong can mean quitting too, particularly if the situation involves mistreatment or abuse. One thing people love and hate about me is that I stick to my morals, and always act out my values (s/o to the squad that let’s me know when I’m not).
Sometimes, probably now more than ever, I make myself do what I would want my friend to do. I ask, would I tell someone else to quit? Would I tell someone else to be honest? To go for it? To be cautious?
I hope my little sisters know they inspire me too, and that one day soon people are going to be looking up to them, so they should always be the best people they can be.