The Motivation to Succeed

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February can be marked as the month of love, devotion, appreciation, and gratitude… and even as I extend my educational lust for success in Higher Education, I have a story, well many stories, to be told. One of the most character building stories is one of a young woman named Aliyah…

Almost 14 years ago, I met a young, vibrant girl during the advisory period at our high school. Bringing in my tagline’s keywords, low self-esteem and fear, I sat in the corner as I watched my brother talk with his friends. It was truly the beginning of my silent conservatism towards people. I didn’t know what it felt like to be a child, by then, I had experienced domestic abuse, child abuse, fear, depression, and every other word in the psychological dictionary referencing “pain”. Knowingly hoping this first day of school would end without anyone picking on my stout frame, a smile walked towards me. Aforementioned, I had a silent dislike for humans and did not care to speak to anyone. I wanted to continue being angelically “emo” for the rest of my life. But anyway, this smile walked up to me and introduced herself. Not knowing for the next 14 years of my life, this person would be one of the only friends who would cross the thick line to be labeled as my sister… I gave her a simple hello. I guess my smile was gay enough because she asked me if I wanted to hang out with her and her friends. She seemed popular enough to be associated with my grunge kind… but I couldn’t say no. This was the first time I felt I had made a holistic friend… sister, I will say.

Fast forward 14 years later and I sit here happily writing about her memory… sad to have to tell you all she lost her battle to cancer last July. As a young professional, a young woman, a young hopeful wife… I thought I was invincible and I darned sure thought she would be too. I lost the most prized gift God has blessed me with on earth. You never grow up thinking you would lose your best friend, sister, motivator at the tender age of 25… but I did. When she was blessed most abundantly to sleep peacefully for the rest of my life (since I am still here walking the earth), she left a big chunk of her heart in my mind. I think about the progress she made, the strength she displayed, the joy she left on everyone’s heart and I pause… am I really going to be as amazing as she was in life? She gave me so much I never knew I had… simply put, she bought me out of my darkest hour.

Two weeks before she passed, I joined her during her chemo session at the hospital. We were talking about our future and we had scheduled a date to apply for jobs after she finished treatment, we talked about our past boyfriends (or lack of) and cried a little as we reminisced on our amazing sistership. I didn’t think just two weeks later, I would give my hearts cry and feel defeated… feel I had let her down. She led me to the light during my darkest hour and I was left feeling unchained. What am I to do now ¬†without her… can I even be as successful without her adorable giggle or her much needed opinions? She gave me the motivation to push through every trial and tribulation I have ever had to face… and she will still be able to do so.

I tell you about my dear friend, Aliyah, because she is the motivation I have for pursuing an advanced degree. She knew I wanted to do this more than anything in the world and now I am here… without the physical form but with the mental form of what she meant to my professional and educational career. I got the opportunity to attend her graduation last May from South Carolina State as a Speech Language Pathologist… you see? Even while battling cancer, my girl graduated from her program. She is a big inspiration in my life. When I am feeling as if I am not able to continue due to my “scaredy-cat” thoughts, I always think of her and I feel immediately refreshed. When I begin applying for my doctoral degrees later this year/early next year… I will call on her to guide me as she always have. To open up opportunities such as the job I am currently working in now, and to give me the confidence to push through anything without her text messages/call telling me to suck it up!

Aliyah is my Valentine this month but she is also my motivator. She has been for the last 14 years and will be for as long as I can stomach this treasured life I am blessed to have here on earth. I will never be able to fill the void in my heart but I can make her proud of me… cause God knows I am too proud of her.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Aliyah Howard. My biggest fan, my biggest motivator, my … everything.

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First Generation Students = The Moths of Higher Education

imagesHave you ever questioned the confidence of a moth? Understood the anonymity of their shadows? Me neither, but I do see how my life relates to their lack of “limelight-worthy” adventures. Do not get moths confused with its’ praised relative, the butterfly. Even babies in the womb grow up wishing to be as free as a butterfly, as colorful as its’ wings… but behind every ounce of beauty lies a shadow… an ambitious shadow whose confidence is never questioned because it is “known” to exist through interpersonal communication, community involvement, and social declarations… but what if a shadow had a shadow who was just as shy as the next shadow… and the next. As I rant on with philosophical “know-hows”, I often sit quietly in my occupied room in my parent’s apartment wondering why my shadow casts it’s confidence before the person, in other words, me? My shadow told me a doctorate degree is extremely important and it will guide me there, introduce me to people who will bring support and confidence I’ve never received before, and write my personal statement explaining my aptitude of skills, awards, and knowledge to said program. My confidence, on the other hand, has its’ doubts.

Here’s why:¬†Long story short, I am a first-generation honors graduate from South Carolina. I learn best through behavior modeling and reenactments (by the way this doesn’t work) of someone else’s prized moment. Many people do not understand the lack of confidence that lives in first generation students when they are compared to individuals who have a legacy or timeline of successful entrepreneurs, business people, professional lawyers, and the like. I come from a background where work is praised, but education could be nice. Put yourself in my shoes for a minute, think of it this way: You come home from school eager to share your success with your family, but they do not understand. They say “congratulations” or “I’m so proud of you!” and while this is enough to get you by, is it enough to keep you confident in your talents? That’s where the metaphor of the moth returns… sometimes sharing your story with people who are not equipped to finding your accomplishments a blessing… is a daunting tasks. Don’t get me wrong, my family has been extremely support, well immediate ones I should say, in my education career. Especially my mother… she’s my biggest fan here on earth. I see her smile and I know I’ve accomplished something. But it still leaves my soul on a whim, because my confidence is hidden through layers of shadows and tasks… similar to the moth’s story.

So, I ask you as I begin this journey, a moth in the higher education system, does one ever take the time to truly ask and reflect on the confidence of a moth? Will the moths forever hold a place behind their beloved relatives, the butterfly? My name is Latoya and I am an upcoming doctoral applicant pursuing a degree in Higher Education with emphasis on Student Affairs and Instruction. I am the moth with questionable confidence, but you’ll find out once you decide to continue reading just how butterfly-like I can be… with the moth label of course. Who knows what I will write about, that’s left to the intellection Gallup states as one my top five strengths. But if you are just as eager to follow me on my pursuit of a doctorate degree, I welcome you in my moth-like world. This is what I’d like to call a “confidence-boosting-applicant-inspiring-young-woman” memoir. It will be exciting to have you along!

P/S: Not all of us are clothes-biters or nocturnal nomads… some of us live and work in a professional world where we praise the daylight and shy away from the night… stay tuned, reader… this is going to be a long ride!