TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK!

images-22The future seemed so certain when I graduated high school…
I’d been accepted by my first-choice on a full athletic scholarship, and under the orders of my father, chose to pursue a degree in engineering. I opted to stay close to home; my father wasn’t always healthy, and I wanted to be around if he needed me. Plus, I had a new baby sister who meant the world to me. But most of all, I didn’t want to be too far away from my high school boyfriend.

My first few months at the university were demanding. I hated my roommate, I sucked at practice, and my classes were ridiculously hard. Not to mention my boyfriend practically lived in the dorm with us. I never studied. I missed assignments and skipped classes. By the end of the semester I was begging every professor for extra credit. Eventually things got better. My professors were incredibly sympathetic to my athletic status, and gave me the work I needed to remain eligible to compete. I improved in my sport too. And my roommate was slowly becoming one of my closest friends.
I closed that semester as rookie of the year in my conference with a respectable GPA. Dad was so proud. I enrolled in summer semester to make up for my dreadful first. I was three weeks in to classes when I discovered the greatest surprise of my life. I was expecting.
A baby???

615x200_ehow_images_a08_7k_9b_differences-elementary-middle-school-students-800x800He was beautiful. And together we made it work. I started school again when he was 7 months old, and took a job as a bank teller to pay the bills. His father and I had since broken up, so I was left with the overwhelming majority of the responsibilities. My son was in child care during the day while I worked, and most nights he would come to class with me. After we’d come home I’d put him to bed and start studying. The days blended together. I was exhausted and very lonely. But I was diligent. I can remember holding my son in one arm while typing with the other. I’d wake up to my alarm clock in the morning with my fingers still pressed to the keys of my laptop.Through many a tear and sleepless night, I’d made it to my final semester as an undergraduate. I opened my financial aid letter to find an expected contribution of $9k due almost immediately. Devastation doesn’t begin to explain my sentiment at the time. I had failed. And I didn’t dare reach out to the athletic department or my relatives who had done so much for me already.

Through many a tear and sleepless night, I’d made it to my final semester as an undergraduate. I opened my financial aid letter to find an expected contribution of $9k due almost immediately. Devastation doesn’t begin to explain my sentiment at the time. I had failed. And I didn’t dare reach out to the athletic department or my relatives who had done so much for me already.

It took another full year for a friend to convince me to go back. Through the advice of a counselor I enrolled at another university for half the amount, and I humbly asked my dad to help me pay what I wasn’t able to save. Six years later, I was finally finished. We’d done it, and we had the degree to prove it.

preschool-clip-art-16My success was not mine alone, but that of my entire community of family and friends, the athletic support staff, and the guidance counselors who saw me through. We all celebrated the night before graduation, and again many tears were shed, for hopefully the last time involving education.

The advice of the university staff was invaluable to the completion of my bachelor’s degree. Student support is a critical part of education in the 21st century where many students come from non-traditional backgrounds. The success of our institutions depends on knowledgeable educators helping students find practical solutions.

––– Ebony Cotterelle
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