updated August 30th, 2019 with edits, deletions, and rephrasing.
I was in the 4th grade the first time I heard someone mention me and college in the same sentence.
“Jasmine’s going to college!”, my dad said with pride in his voice. My memory of this moment is so vague — I don’t remember who was around, where I was, or what I was doing
there in grown folks’ business, but I remember my dad’s voice, clear as day,
announce proclaim this. I didn’t really know what college was, what it looked like, or what it took to get there, because no one in my family had ever gone. But at that moment– that very instant– I decided and solidified in my mind that I was going to make college my thing.
From that point forward, my dedication to school, already strong because of supportive elementary school staff and programming, deepened. I worked harder, asked more questions, and dove deeper into my studies (as much as a 5th grader could). I asked to transfer schools to what I thought would be more of a challenge
- studying for a history test and using my brother’s high school history text to help me answer the review questions
- reading online articles to get an idea of how to format and write essays
- being in the 7th grade and ordering a college brochure from Columbia University
College. It was an idea that turned into an obsession that transformed into my identity. Jasmine = good student = college
Around the same time, however, I remember being pushed out of the advanced/high-performance (HP) classes in 7th grade. From K-6, I had always been in the “high” groups for math and reading, exceeded in MCAs, and whatever other measure you decided to use to identify a “high-achieving” student. For some reason, though, when I applied to my middle school’s HP classes, I was eligible for 0. I didn’t
know why all of a sudden I wasn’t good enough to be with the kids I had always been with. When my dad asked me what advanced classes I was taking, I told him, “None” and showed him the letter– he was as confused as I was. He told me he would call the office to figure it out. My dad complained to the office and he let me know that they would be letting me join two of the advanced track classes. I had never felt average or less than until this moment. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being average, but in my mind I had to be better to achieve my goals. And based on my first encounter with 7th grade, I wasn’t on the right track.
This feeling of mediocrity deepened the longer I stayed in this district. By 10th grade, I had stopped trying. I went to school, did my work (sometimes) and was “good enough”. I had come to hate myself, and I didn’t really think I would amount to much.
I transferred schools after 10th grade and got into the IB program at Henry High School in north Minneapolis. College became my thing again. I was a hard worker. I was capable. College WAS for me, or at least the version of myself I had created over my two years at Henry.
My turning point
August 2012 I make it college. I arrived with a 22 year plan to become a tenured professor of chemistry at a R-1 institution by 40 years of age.
Two years later and I’m wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life.
I wasn’t good enough. I was failing classes and on academic probation, even though I studied every moment I wasn’t in class or in the lab. I decided it was time to “take a break” from school in Arizona for a while. I was *this* close to dropping out. The identity I had created for myself– that Jasmine=good student= college– was literally falling apart.
Before I made the move official, I got bamboozled into staying in school with the promise of someone paying my rent that year. I decided to take a year off in the form of taking fun classes in addition to retaking some classes I failed the year before. I hadn’t read a book for fun or for class in two years. So, I took Intro to Lit 1101 through the Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature department (CSCL) along with some more chemistry courses. I thought that since CSCL was such a flexible major, I would double major in chemistry and CSCL. Even though I was still struggling with chemistry, and doing very poorly, I couldn’t stop studying it. JASMINE did not give up on anything. I had invested too much time already.
Fall semester 2014 I read Aime Cesaire’s Notebook of a Return to the Native Land and was confronted with the question of “who told me I wasn’t good enough?” for the first time.
I took another fun class in the spring (along with physics, the bane of my existence) with Professor Keith Mayes, my first black teacher or professor. The class was called “Black Social Policy and the Welfare State” and got another A. I learned that the odds were literally stacked against me, but despite that, I was good enough. I deserved to be there. And, with this class under my belt, and a new sense of confidence in who I was, I did something I had never done before– GIVE UP.
I spoke with my counselor, filled out the paper work and it was official. I dropped physics (for the second time), removed my major in chemistry, and switched to CSCL the spring semester of my junior year.
The next few years included me making the Dean’s list, adding minors in African & African-American studies & English, completing a research presentation for my paper titled “A Comparison of Race, Culture, and Identity”, and completing a teaching fellowship on the North Side. When I finally stopped trying to force myself into what I thought success had to look like, I belonged, I was successful, and I found my “why”.
May 14, 2017. As I’m walking up the stairs to the Mariucci stage looking out into the crowd, I wait to hear my name. An old white man mispronounces it jazz-mine, but I don’t care. I strut across the
stage, unable to control my smile. I turn and face my parents in the audience and raise my diploma in the air. It was mine. 13 years and the Bachelor of Arts with all of its privileges was finally mine.
I didn’t know what college would be like. I didn’t know that it would take 5 years. I definitely didn’t know that it would include me failing courses and getting on academic probation, but somehow, that day, it all came together and the ceremony, along with my 5 years of undergraduate study, was over in the blink of an eye.
I continue to culminate over this series of events. While this is a positive end to my first 13 year journey, the journey continues still. I sometimes still feel this tiny voice in my head telling me that I shouldn’t be getting a master’s degree. For the foreseeable future, I anticipate this to reoccur any time I enter a new space simply because I’ve never been there before. But with time, I suspect the voice will fade to a dull occasional hum, be completely ignored, and then hopefully cease to exist. But moving forward, I’ll know when to leave things and when to forge ahead.
All of this to say: My life began the day I decided to finally give up.
Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.
-Herman Hesse, Siddhartha