“I was a fan of Carlow before I could even fully comprehend college and I have the Polaroid somewhere to prove it.”
I still remember it like it was yesterday. Little old me jumping up and down on the small dormitory bed in my soft pink nightgown feeling like the coolest kid in the world. I wasn’t even in double digits yet and my cousin invited me to her school to stay the night and I don’t remember sleeping. I remember eating all the candy I could, watching movies, meeting her roommate, and going into the lounge and making the most colorful tye dye shirts we could make. I stared at my big cousin Tonya with excitement in my eyes and told her matter of factly, “One day I’m gonna go to Carlow College just like you.”
She had no idea I meant it. In a sea of women much older than me, I had declared a college before I had even hit puberty. My mom never went to college and neither did my dad but I was going to do it.
“Would you like to come to one of our overnights to get the full Carlow University Experience?” An admissions counselor asked high school me and I politely declined.
“I’ve been here before.” It was no longer an all-girls establishment and had grown into university status but I knew when I stepped foot on campus that younger me knew what she was talking about. This small womens’ centered university on top of a hill was where I needed to be. After a tour, I filled out an application and after being impatient I submitted a creative writing essay describing my journey to that point.
What journey could a high school student have? I wrote about how I sat with my senior high school English teacher and she helped me pen an entire essay that rhymed and described how I had grew up with writing aspirations bigger than myself.
I weaved words detailing my introduction to words and how I had a library card before I could even sign my name. I made up stories and held the book in my hand as a child because I didn’t know the words yet. When I did learn them there was no stopping me. I read encyclopedias, dictionaries, and novels of all sorts. The Braddock Library was my after school program and my summer camp. It was truly my second home. People from my neighborhood weren’t exactly expected to go to college. I wanted to be everything my outside environment didn’t want me to be…educated.
“Read because no one can take your knowledge from you,” I remember reading that as a teen and it stuck with me. Freshman year as a commuter was hard. I had no support system, tech-savvy me taught my advisor how to register for classes, I got sick, and I failed my first class. High school was so easy that academically I had never been challenged until I got to college.
I took the bus the wrong way home. I got involved on campus. It started with being an orientation leader helping first-year students navigate the Carlow experience without having to go through what I went through. Then I joined student government and learned the school didn’t have one. We were building one from the ground up with elected student senators from every department, budget meetings for every organization, and a voice in most major campus changes.
The four years I was there I helped pick a mascot, plan the renovation of a student center I’d never see, protest against the city’s proposed tuition tax, build a newspaper, and aided as a vice president of the Black Student Union. Navigating the black experience in a predominantly white Catholic University was an interesting environment that kid me didn’t think about all those years ago.
Any other person would’ve given up freshman year but I’m not any other person. I knew why I showed up and how I got there but reflecting upon it I stayed because I wanted to help. I wanted to help any high school senior coming from a neighborhood like mine, and prove that if I can do it knowing very little then so can someone else. I stayed because I showed up at Carlow as a confused young woman who knew she wanted to write and spend four years learning things from books. Those four years I learned the biggest lessons weren’t in books and I left a leader who had already negotiated a raise, stepped up to protest at City Hall, and wasn’t afraid to speak for the people who were afraid to do so.
Sometimes I smile thanking kid me for being impulsive, resourceful, and relentless in the journey to figure things out. Because if it hadn’t been for Carlow University I wouldn’t be the colorful leader that I am today.