Having the guts to kick butt in college requires determination, creativity, resilience – and money. Any aspiring college student must eventually face these truths. For me, I had determination, creativity and resilience in the bag. I was a straight-A high school student and remember proudly and confidently telling my mother that I was applying to one college university, and that obvs I would get it in and totally rock it. My mother’s reply: You absolutely will rock it sweetheart, but just so you know if you go, there’s not much I can do to help you pay for it.
You see, the money part is where I panicked.
I indeed solely applied to the University of South Carolina (USC) after falling in love-at-first-college-sight with the journalism program, the campus, and the fact that in-state tuition was significantly more affordable for a young African-American first-generation female student like me. USC stole my heart like a sunny Carolina spring day, but even with residency, it was by no means cheap. I grew up in South Carolina, but college was this beautiful unexplored academic world, and academics is where I thrived. It’s where I felt my truest self. I never had to worry that I wasn’t popular or pretty enough, because I had brains, and I quickly learned that in a society where you can be unaccepted for so many things, intelligence could help you rise above. At university, my colleagues and friends were happy with being smart kids and took strong pride in being self-titled creative nerds (even amidst teases and taunts that our creativity and love for library and gardening and music and art and knitting and being unathletic somehow made us uncool.) I personally took pride in being a smart black girl on a campus where there simply were not a lot of other black girls enrolled. USC was founded in 1801 and by 1877, a student of my race was still unable to register. Thanks to three students of color that pushed for change, the university’s integration would happen in 1963. Fifty-seven years later in 2020, however, the racial diversity for undergraduate enrollment at USC is still heavily disproportionate. (Less than 10% enrollment for African-Americans and less than 8% for all other minority races), stats that have not much changed since my mid-2000s enrollment. And while I could have optionally applied to and attended a historical black college and university (HBCU) down the street in a much lower socio-economic neighborhood, I wanted to impact diversity at USC. I wanted to be diversity at USC. This was a walk my great-grandmothers, grandmothers, aunts, and mother had never taken before. This was a walk my grandfathers, uncles and father had never taken before. This was a walk my older sister had attempted five years before me, but did not complete, as the trials, tribulation and lack of racial diversity at the college she applied to, just 2 hours from my campus, for her felt too heavy a burden to bear. Don’t mess this up, we’re counting on you, I remember my older sister telling me the first day I moved into my dorm room. She never walked across a college stage and I felt both a heavy pride and equally heavy weight to do so for her, for me, for my entire family, particularly for my two younger sisters who would attend college after me. For me college wasn’t just about simply wanting to succeed, I needed to succeed. College was my cross, but I knew it would take more than prayer to carry it. My first day of freshman orientation in the campus auditorium gave me those first date butterflies. Walking a half mile across campus to my first financial aid office meeting hit my stomach too, but more like the kind where you’re dropping fast on a scary rollercoaster. Getting into college felt easy. I quickly realized that paying for it was a much larger challenge and at 17 years old, college taught me my first lesson in financial angst.
It was also my first real love story.
I spent 1,643 days, nearly 40,000 hours, and well over $100,000 pursuing this academic love story, my love for college.
Along the way, I discovered anxiety and overthinking, at times depression even. I discovered fatigue and hunger (I was on scholarship but had to maintain no less than a 3.5 GPA to keep them intact, so each semester I worked diligently to cushion myself by maintaining no less than a 4.0, often foregoing eating to study). I discovered what crying and hyperventilating felt like (my mom would tell me to breathe and drink a glass of water to gather my thoughts), because as tuition increased so did my need for loans. Study. Intern. Work. Eat. Sleep. Wake up. Apply for Scholarships - this cycle became my norm. The more I achieved, the lonelier and more overwhelmed I sometimes felt. Even though I had eventually found my stride as an upperclassman in socializing, dating and studying, my balance still felt unsteady. By my third year in college, I was seeing a therapist. He told me I was ‘okay’ and to maybe go to a party for once. My fellow dorm mates gave me some better advice: attend the knit night in our dorm. And just like that, like finding the perfect pattern at the perfect time, I discovered something that would forever shape and impact my world – yarn and knitting. I would spend the rest of my college career both ambitiously studying and formidably teaching myself how to knit. Both would shift the trajectory of my life and my love story. I ended up graduating from the University of South Carolina cum laude, and an expert in knitting garter stitch scarves. In between my studies, I became an ambassador and president of the enrollment committee for my dorm, where I led a team of about 20 to shift the diversity rates. About 100 students lived in my dorm and as a freshman student less than 40% were minority. By the time I completed my leadership tenure, even with overall low campus minority enrollment rates, my side of the yard would mirror just over 50% minority in my dorm, an accomplishment I helped to achieve in two years. Race aside, we all had this sort of beans for brains mindset.
Being a part of the enrollment committee, being an ambassador, creating lifelong friends that embraced diversity, inclusion and love for academics was an experience that impacted me in a profound way. Yes, I trailblazed across stage, turned my tassel from right to left, tossed my graduation cap and walked away from the USC campus helping so many others, but in many ways, college helped and saved my own life on vast and grand levels. I eventually went on to graduate school in Chicago (where I found another love story and met my now fiancé!), as well as post-graduation founding and launching Northknits and Our Maker Life (OML). But USC will always have a place in my heart. I became alumni there, and like the sunniest spring day, discovered a deep first love to make the world I wanted to see.
I know so many of us have our own academic love stories, our love for college. On campus, in our dorms, in the classroom, and alas in financial aid is where so many of us discover who we are and who we’re called to be. And many of us who look to succeed in college are also makers who love to knit, crochet, weave, yarn dye, etc., while equally paying the bills. I know that passion, I’ve felt that passion. Laura Zander, CEO at Jimmy Beans Wool, knows that passion as well. It’s led her to trailblaze so many things in life, including the Beans for Brains scholarship program. Jimmy Beans Wool, a yarn and accessories store in Reno, has awarded more than $50,000 through its Beans for Brains scholarship program so far. The money is for deserving students with an interest in creating. There are six scholarships worth $2,500 each. For 2020, Laura and her team have relaunched the program and I am honored to be sitting as a board member on the scholarship committee.
So, what is your story? We are waiting to hear your voice because we have no doubt that it has the capability to shift our world. Whether you are first generation, or one of many in your family to attend college; whether you are white or minority, have a rich history or a poor one, if you have a heart to learn and a heart to make, this is your time to share, your time to shine.
Remember, having the guts to kick butt in college requires determination, creativity, resilience – and money. Any aspiring college student must eventually face these truths.
But it also takes heart.
Let it beat and thrive with success – you absolutely will rock it sweetheart.
For more information, including applications that must be submitted between April 1 through April 30, visit Jimmy Beans Wool 2020 Beans For Brains Scholarship Program.