Mathematically speaking, my parents should have beaten my exponentially, smart *insert expletive* for seemingly keeping them clueless during my college application process. But, I was a dreamer and in this teenager’s head, there were schools and then there was one, highly acclaimed college that I was meant to attend.  Yes, I applied to one school out of the 4,140 colleges and universities in the United States.

IMG: Hampton University. Kevin Coles. Flickr. CCBY 2.0

For months, I listened in sheer, uninterested ho-hum-ness to my peers in their heated debates over whether they’d hear back from the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, James Madison, or Old Dominion. My decision to attend an HBCU came sometime between sophomore year and that episode where Dwayne kisses Whitley in A Different World.  That choice was Hampton University. I was set to graduate high school with a 3.8 GPA, number 6 out of 199 students with numerous AP classes under my belt. I was a classically trained pianist, played tennis, the band’s drum major, and sold my fair share of Girl Scout cookies to get any community service award. Acceptance was not a concern but it seemed refuge was. I was coming from an unconventional background that I loathed. I hadn’t come from an illustrious school with means and street credibility. I grew up far outside the suburbs or any major metropolis, in a “Good Ole’ Boy” county of Virginia where I dreamed of escaping to a life of business success and free from cow patties.

A small hiccup a.k.a. reality check occurred during college recruitment day, where I side-eyed a Caucasian classmate who stood between the Hampton recruiter and myself. That attitude didn’t play well and he quickly informed me that any acceptance could be withdrawn in a “Home by the Sea” second. At that moment, I felt the first pressures of college acceptance and it pushed me into a deep, acne-fueled panic. It was then that I realized why I had chosen Hampton and why it was so important for me to have this experience. I’d been pushed to excellence my whole life and having that journey possibly put into jeopardy scared this lowly, country girl. Hampton University was the best, not as the best historically black college and university (which I am quite biased and still totally believe that it is) but just the best college for me. I knew Hampton would be an incubator to push me into the collective, educational, and professional success that I dreamed of and longed for. Later that evening, I soberly admitted to my parents about submitting only one college application and the mistake of being cocky with a recruiter. Needless to say, that recruiter had a begrudging but short-term memory and humility is now a strong suit.

IMG: 121010-A-HS496-013. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District. Flickr. CCBY 2.0

I joined the graduating class of 1997 in the fall of 1993, becoming a proud member of a class of black overachievers; future politicians, entrepreneurs, writers, lawyers, doctors, and business phenoms. Life lessons flooded in from the tough love of my very first college class where I was promptly kicked out for having the current but still incorrect textbook. (Oh the woes of testing out of your normal freshman year class curriculum.) To other equally important social lessons of going from an only child to sharing a bathroom with a street tough New Yorker, a debutante from Miami, and a home-girl from Houston, who was “fin ta” do stuff all day long. My desire was to be submersed with people from around the country that looked like me and had never once chased a chicken back into a cage. My hopes had been that Hampton would start the process of transforming my unusual upbringing into one that would enter the world to make an impact.

In classic form, my freshman year was spent trying to figure out a way to not feel like a minority in a sea of minorities. To blend in rather than just be me (I somehow ended up picking up a heavy Bronx accent.) As my time at Hampton continued, I let their educational paradigm do what years of matriculating black intellectuals from Booker T. Washington to Wanda Sykes achieves, which was laying the foundation for the “total” student experience.  Students that have hyper-focus to thrive, challenge, and excel. The Hampton atmosphere planted and grew a seed of appreciation and pride in culture, education, and educators even recognizing the value in my formative years. Over the years, that tough skin and take on the world attitude which started my very first day at Hampton, taught me how to beat life’s disappointing moments. My Hampton experience skilled me in how to continually build my worth while still being smart and ethnically proud.

IMG: The Graduates Hampton University. Jack Duval. Flickr. CCBY 2.0

I am not blinded to the plight of HBCU’s like some in our current administration, but relish in the fact that what our ancestors built made it possible to pick based on aptitude and not accessibility. As I approach my twenty-year class reunion, I credit Hampton for introducing me to the profession where I remain to this day. I owe much to my Home by the Sea and have never looked back from the day I decided to send in that one college application.

 

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