Throughout the years, I’ve seen students struggle with the transition to college.
Regardless of whether the struggles are social or academic, I think the root of the problem is this: students spend so much time thinking about getting to college that they never consider what they want to get from college.
Sure, they have a canned response some adult has told them along the way, but they are never asked to pinpoint why college is right and meaningful for them. So that’s what I try to address in my work. I ask every student to really dig into the question, “What do you want from this opportunity?”
I ask every student to soul search. I want every student to step onto a college campus feeling empowered.
I’m upfront with my students. I’ll tell them stories about my life: How when my mom was growing up in Jamaica, she received a prestigious scholarship to high school and passed it up, choosing instead to take care of her family and give the award to her younger sister.
Or, that I was the first in my family to go to college. Or that when I came out to myself, as a junior, I hit rock bottom and dropped out of school, moved from place to place, running, searching, looking, afraid of how my family would respond and heartbroken that I would never have children.
Some students know that I returned to college at age twenty-seven—determined to be a good role for my younger sister—and that I got my degree after years of going to school at night and on the weekends.
And some have heard how found this work: that I had a boyfriend who worked at KIPP New York, that the boyfriend became my husband, that we just celebrated our 16th year together.
And my students know the thing that makes me most proud—our daughter just turned two years old.
Last year, our first KIPP class graduated college. I try to make it to every ceremony. We’re telling our kids to take major steps in life, we should be there to cheer them on.
The very first graduation ceremony I attended was just outside of Chicago. I sat through two and a half hours. All I wanted was to see my student and for her to see me. Finally, at the end, just as she was about to walk on stage, she turned her head slightly…and we made eye contact. The look she gave me…it was…it was amazing. She was just so happy. And she shot out of line, gave me a huge hug, and ran back on stage to receive her diploma. I just wrote her a recommendation, actually. She started graduate school this past January.
These ki–…I don’t want to call them kids. These young adults are amazing. They say things, they do things, they just…they just give me so much faith in the next generation.