Recently a few colleagues and I sparked up a conversation about how prepared for graduate school we were as a result of our undergraduate institutions. Throughout this group, we had people who had attended schools such as Harvard University, the University of Michigan, the University of Arkansas, The University of Rhode Island, Tougaloo College, and North Carolina Central University (NCCU). In addition to being college graduates, we also shared one distinct commonality. We all identified as African American or of African descent.
As we discussed what aspects of our respective institutions assisted in our development and preparation post-graduation, one thing repeatedly came up. My peers who attended predominantly White institutions (PWIs) constantly spoke about their lack of community. Not necessarily from their respective peer groups but more so from their institutions as a whole. Further engaging in this conversation, one thing became apparent. Throughout my undergraduate experience at NCCU, I never felt unsupported by my institutional community. In fact, I dare to say that I would not be pursuing a doctoral degree at an Ivy League institution right now if it were not for the community I had at NCCU.
Although my peers attended wealthier institutions than NCCU, they often complained about the lack of support they received from their institution. In fact, one member of our group stated, “I don’t believe my school appreciated my Blackness. To be honest, as a Black person on that campus I was looked down on compared to my White counterparts.” Hearing this statement brought up memories of the PWI I attended prior to transferring to NCCU. I remember often being told by administrators and faculty alike that I would not make it to graduation. I often witnessed peers treated lesser than because of the color of their skin. But most of all I often remember being overlooked simply due to the color of my skin and the social class I belonged to.
But all this changed once I stepped foot on the campus of NCCU. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by Black brilliance. I attended classes taught by Black teachers, I learned first hand about the African diaspora from Black scholars. The senior leadership at this epicenter of Black excellence was comprised of Black people who looked like me. In many ways, I attribute my decision to embark on a career in higher education, due to the love, resilience, passion, and power I received as a student at NCCU.
Looking back at my educational journey, I often think of the lessons I learned at NCCU that still serve me well today. As a result, I have illustrated a few of these lessons in an effort to potentially help encourage those who have or will call schools like NCCU home one day.
It takes a village: There is an old African proverb that states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” When I enrolled in NCCU, I was a naïve young man who thought he knew everything about life. But as it often does, life humbled me very quickly. As an out of state student, I often remember faculty and staff members inviting me to family dinners, church, and other outing activities, just so I would not feel alone. I remembered being challenged by my university mentors to not settle for average grades but strive to be the exceptional student they knew I could be. It was through these acts of love and care that I have been able to strive to be the best version of who I am meant to be.
Work like your life depends on it: During my sophomore year, I often recall my mentor stating, “ Will, it is imperative that you work like your life depends on it, because one day it just might.” Although that was almost a decade ago, those words still hold relevance today. My first semester of doctoral studies nearly destroyed me mentally. But due to the aforementioned statement, I worked day and night in addition to practicing self-care to ensure that at the end of that semester, I would come out victorious.
Spend your 24 hours wisely: In one-on-one conversations with Chancellor Emeritus Charlie Nelms, he would often say, “Will, you know, everyone has the same 24-hours in a day. What determines an individual’s future success is how they choose to spend their 24.” Balancing working full-time as well as pursuing a terminal degree can be exhausting. But capitalizing on how I choose to spend each day while scheduling time for adequate rest has allowed me to maintain this balance.
Strive for your purpose: When I enrolled in NCCU I thought I wanted to pursue a law degree. But by the time I left the gates of my beloved alma mater, I realized fighting for educational equality was my purpose. As such, I have dedicated my life towards creating opportunities for those who society often overlooks and turns a blind eye to.
Thanks to the preparation and community I received at NCCU, I have been empowered to take on anything that comes my way. For those who are currently working towards their degrees, I leave you with this: Build your village; work like your life depends on it; spend your 24-hours effectively; and strive for your purpose no matter what obstacles are placed in your path.