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Two Rods, Twenty Screws

Facing College: First Generation Students’ Stories from Central Michigan (Mt. Pleasant, MI)

(DENESHA, 22)

I grew up in Saginaw with my mom and brother. She was a single parent and it was hard watching her raise us on her own. Her struggle made me want to work harder in school. My mom encouraged me through elementary, middle, and high school. Although she didn’t explicitly say she wanted me to go to college, I knew it would make her proud. I went and became the first in my family to attend college. My mother cared for me through the most difficult times in my life and supported me as I continued my education.

When I was twelve my doctor said I had scoliosis. When I first got diagnosed, I didn’t know what it was. I ran track throughout seventh grade and my back would hurt, but not enough to stop me from running. Scoliosis means your spine is curved sideways. When they diagnose you with scoliosis, they measure the curve of your spine, mine was around sixty degrees. Usually if your curve is fifty degrees or greater, you’re automatically a candidate for back surgery, they won’t put you in a brace. If the spinal curve reaches one hundred degrees then there is a possibility of it crushing your heart. I was supposed have surgery in the middle of eighth grade but my curve was increasing quickly and the doctors didn’t know why.

I kept going in for checkups and after two weeks, my curve was at about eighty degrees, but I was still walking normally. Usually people are hunched over when their curve is that bad and they’re in a lot of pain. I wasn’t in that much pain and it was weird. I was a cheerleader, I danced, and did gymnastics. I shouldn’t have been able to walk. The doctor said my lungs probably should have been crushed. My last appointment, they pushed my surgery up by six months, I had it on the first day of school.

The day of the surgery, the curve of my spine was at ninety-six degrees. I have two rods and twenty screws in my spine and my mom calls me a miracle child. I missed my whole eighth grade year and had to be homeschooled. There was someone who would come from my school and work with me at home. I would do my homework, but I never really understood it. I got to go back for the last couple of weeks and graduated in the top of my class..

Like my mother facing the challenge of single parenthood, I faced the hurdle of scoliosis, but bounced back to normal in high school. Freshman to senior year, I went back to sports. I did cheerleading, tennis, was a Majorette, played clarinet in the marching band, and graduated third in my class. In high school there was a required senior seminar class and a part of the grade was applying to six colleges. I knew I wanted to go to college, so I had a few schools in mind. However, this class and its requirement got me thinking. I ended up applying to 15 schools, one of them being Central Michigan University (CMU).

I decided to come to CMU because it was diverse. I wanted to expand my horizons beyond my hometown, where most people looked like me. My time as an undergraduate was tough, but I graduated in four years by pushing myself and stepping out of my comfort zone. Programs like Pathways to Academic Student Success aided me along my journey in college. I was in a Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) cohort in high school, which was a college readiness program that began in seventh grade. Being in GEAR UP in high school eased my transition to Pathways, a retention program for first generation, Pell grant eligible, and multicultural students, in college. I admit, at first I didn’t know what Pathways was and didn’t really want any help. However, they let me know that Pathways was like GEAR UP in college and that they were part of the same family. Eventually, I applied and Pathways helped me come out of my shell. I never thought I would be comfortable enough to pursue a career in communication.

When I was in eleventh grade, the superintendent of my high school, who I had known since I was about five, told me that I would be a speech pathologist. I didn’t believe him. Five years later, here I am. In May 2016, I graduated from CMU’s Honors program with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Communication Disorders. That fall, I had the opportunity to present at the Michigan Autism Conference in Kalamazoo. I’m currently taking post-baccalaureate classes in order to receive my master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology and working as a behavioral therapist with kids who have autism.

I see my future as bright. I was recently accepted in Michigan State University’s Speech Pathology program. In two years, I’d like to have my master’s degree from MSU and get my certification in speech pathology. Within three years of graduating, I hope I work in a clinic, preferably with children who have autism, and write a book. I want to tell people my story and my struggles and how it influenced my choice of career. I want others to see that no matter where they came from, they can go far. The key is to not let the world tell you who you are, you tell the world.


This story originally appeared in Facing College: First-Generation Stories, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

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