Education is power! I now understand this statement because I’ve empowered myself with education. My struggle with school began early compared to my peers. My mother’s limited education impacted my academic growth; however, I eventually became a first-generation college graduate.
As a young child, I never cared for school – my teachers merely provided childcare while my mother worked. I earned poor grades, but my mother never corrected me or provided guidance. Unfortunately, she only completed the second grade and was unable to assist me with my studies. Although she did learn to read and write, she could not to convey the importance of school to me. In fourth grade, after a parent/teacher conference, my mother said, “Nellie you have to do better.” However, she never told me why – and I really needed the why. Though my interest in school became less and less, somehow I made it to high school. I applied and interviewed with a highly regarded fashion school and to my surprise, I was accepted. Unfortunately, this did not change my attitude toward education; from my perspective if I could travel by myself (subway), I should be able to make my own decisions. I hung out with friends and did things I should not have been doing.
I was headed downhill; I had no aspirations or dreams. My only possible goal was a GED. Then I met a person that turned my life around. His family believed strongly in education and the American dream. He said, “Nellie I don’t want a GED or drop-out girl. If you want to be with me, you have to graduate high school.” He lit a desire for education that still continues today; he completely changed my life.
I needed a change. I convinced my mother to enroll me in an alternative school away from my present environment and so-called friends. I set a goal to graduate high school and do the best I could. I began to shine in my academics and became an A/B student. School became fun and easy, and I became motivated to improve even more and achieved the A honor roll. I never looked back. My capabilities were much greater than I realized, and I had an intense desire for success. I graduated as a distinguished graduate from high school and met the mayor of New York City. With this beginning, I enrolled in the respected school John Jay College and majored in criminal justice.
With many other changes in my life, I transferred to Central Texas College and earned my associate’s degree in General Studies. I wanted to pursue a bachelor’s in kinesiology, but the cost was prohibitive. I continued to look for solutions and met with a student advisor who offered only one option: student loans. I was not interested in a student loan and continued to look for another way. It’s amazing how God shows you a path when you least expect it. When my cousin told me about the Air Force and the opportunities and benefits, a light bulb went on. I quickly made an appointment and the recruiter explained the educational benefits to include the Montgomery G.I. Bill and the tuition assistance program. I joined.
I joined the Air Force for education; however, my career became the priority and school hit the back burner. I still completed classes when I could and quickly earned my Community College of the Air Force degree by combining my previous degree and a few other classes paid for by tuition assistance. I received kudos for attaining my CCAF degree and then earned a second CCAF Degree and a bachelor’s in Human Resources Management.
I’m proud of my achievements, but they did not satisfy my need for education — I’m currently enrolled in a master’s of business administration program with a minor in marketing. I’m excited about this and believe it will be difficult … but well worth it.
My message to anybody reading is this: you can’t control what life you’re given, but you can control what you make of it. In my life, the struggles could easily have limited me. Instead, I’ve used them for motivation and turned them into success. Remember, education is a journey, not a destination.