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Reflection is one of the most important parts of the growth process. We have to examine where we’ve been to have any idea of where we might go, and because hindsight is 20/20, it’s easy to look back at your former self and offer insight.
In 2011, I compiled a book of letters from alumnae of Florida A&M University to their freshman year selves. The project ultimately included over twenty letters from girls of varying socioeconomic backgrounds, life stories, and perspectives. The only regret I had about the project was that I didn’t offer my own.
What would I tell the self I was at eighteen? What could I say to me in 2001? And since it is impossible to turn back the hands of time, how could I structure my writing so that someone else might glean something valuable from my experience?
From that moment comes this piece, a letter written to the naïve, ambitious, unfocused, and determined self I was when I stepped on the highest of seven hills. It’s a look back at that girl, the one with the wild hair, face free of makeup, high school letterman jacket, and bubbly personality. This is for her, but it’s for you, too, my reader. I hope in my words a struggling freshman might find hope, a lost sophomore might find inspiration, an unfocused junior might find her place, a confused senior might find clarity, and an alumnus might find just a little bit of her or himself reflected in my words.
Though my experience is my own, I do believe I share it with so many other young men and women who have a taken a chance on using college to change the course of their lives.
Here’s my story. What’s yours?
20 November 2014
To my Dreezy baby,
Are you listening? You never listen to anyone, about anything, ever, but I need you to listen to me right now. You are smart. We both know this, but also know this: your intellect will not be enough to get you to graduation. Matter of fact, all of your “smarts” will eventually get you kicked out of school. Yes, you, the brilliant, all-knowing, gifted, genius child will be on academic suspension and have your financial aid rescinded, which means you won’t be able to enroll in classes, which means you’ll watch your friends go to class and graduate while you sit on the sidelines. And I’ll tell you the truth; you’re going to give up. You might not give up on your life, but you will give up on your goals and take on others that were never intended for you to fulfill.
But that won’t be the end of your story.
You’ll spend three years out of school, working for a little over minimum wage, and for a while, you won’t even be focused on returning to FAM. You’ll even lie to friends and tell them that you’re happy being out of school, happy working at your job, happy not doing what God purposed for you to do. You’ll spend time ignoring God’s plan because you just can’t see how it’s going to work. You’ll eventually forget that you were called to FAM according to God’s purpose working within you. You’ll forget because it’s easier to forget than to be a failure. Working will satisfy the part of you that’s focused on achievement. Working will pay the bills, but it won’t fill your heart with joy. You’ll always know, deep in the recesses of your heart, that you’re out of line with the master plan.
But that also won’t be the end of your story.
It’ll take a car accident (head-on collision at 3:30 in the morning) to get you back on the path to college graduation. It’ll take planning and prayer, promises and pleading, to get you enrolled in classes, forgiven of your debt (Yeah, you’ll owe FAMU about $2700), and re-awarded financial aid. You will have to go from office to office, even to the Leon County Clerk of Courts office, but in that moment you will learn how to work for your education and stop waiting for everything to be given to you, and this is a lesson you’ve needed to learn for a long time. Being the smartest girl in the class doesn’t matter if you can’t take classes. Running around the city of Tallahassee looking for former professors will be what you need to finally understand the value of an education and how precious of a gift it is. When you return to the university, you will embody excellence with caring.
But that also won’t be the end of your story.
All told, you’ll change your major to English (where you probably should have been all along), graduate with honors (raising your GPA from a 1.6 to a 3.17), go on to earn a master’s degree in Secondary Education with a concentration in English (3.84 G.P.A.!!!!!), and then apply and be accepted into a PhD program (where you’ll complete all of your coursework with straight As). So you see, everything that will happen to you happened for a reason because the question wasn’t whether or not you could do the work; the question was actually whether or not you were ready to do the work. Every person you thought was working against you was actually a part of the plan for your good, but you wouldn’t believe me if you hadn’t experienced it. You needed every disappointment, every failure, every tear, every long night, and every early morning. You needed to feel the sting of failure because it made the smell of success even sweeter. You needed the confusion in your life because it would ultimately lead to clarity of your purpose. You, the girl who never needed anybody or anything, will find that you need so much and so many people. You aren’t an island, little girl.
I’m sure you’re surprised by all that I’ve said, but remember this, my beautiful Black girl, you wouldn’t be the person you are today if you had not been the person you were yesterday. You wouldn’t have met the people you would one day meet if you hadn’t been a student at FAM three years after you should have graduated. You wouldn’t have traveled the places you’ve traveled, or even loved the people you’ve loved. I’m actually not quite sure where you would be—or what you would be doing—if college had been smooth sailing from the beginning to the end, but I do know this: you are wiser for the journey you traveled. Now, when you speak, you have authority in your voice. When you reflect, you have wisdom in your eyes. When you counsel, you have experience in your arsenal.
As I close this letter of reflection, I remind you again to trust the process, for the plan for your life is much bigger than you can see.
I love you like you are myself,
Sidebar: One day, you’re going to wake up, and you’ll have everything you’ve ever dreamed of. And you’ll have earned it. I’m so very proud of you.
Rondrea Danielle Mathis—a native of Miami, Florida—holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature (2008) and a master’s degree in Secondary Education with a concentration in English (2010). Currently, Rondrea is ABD at the University of South Florida, where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in English, and a college instructor, teaching composition and literature courses. Additionally, Rondrea is a minister at Heritage Christian Community Baptist Church, vice president of the Tampa Chapter of the FAMU National Alumni Association, and advisor to the USF Section of the National Council of Negro Women. She can be reached on Twitter at @iRondrea.