Alisha’s Story: Becoming Who You’ll Be

Facing College: Diverse Student Voices from Michigan State University

As told to: Bridget Dexter

What does college mean to me? Well, I think it’s necessary, but, it’s not fair. Like, we go to school our whole life and pay all of this money to the government just so we can make more money when we’re older. Like, why can’t we just take a test and go to work?

OK, I guess I’m here for more than just money. I grew up in Detroit, and I didn’t have the easiest time. Middle school was especially bad. My dad was in prison at the time, so I didn’t have him around to be a role model. I was like really bad for my age. I used to smoke, talk to guys, I was really promiscuous. I had a 2.8 GPA. My parents obviously didn’t like the direction I was heading. My dad then drilled into my head the concept of respect and having to earn respect. He said your reputation follows you. And that really made an impression on me. I still think about it often. Since middle school, I’ve definitely turned things around for myself.

High school was when I first read Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands, for a book report, and that really sparked my interest. To read about the passion he felt for his work was inspiring. So I started to make some connections to what I might want to do. In fact, before I was even born, my mom got into a bad accident and got a really bad brain injury. She was brought down to a third grade level. She had to learn to walk again and all that kind of stuff. The doctors said she wouldn’t be able to have a baby, and well, a year later she had me. And when I heard that story, that made me think, “Wow, do these doctors know what they’re talking about?” And then, later, my stepdad had a shrinkage of the brain and I’m like, “What are you guys trying to tell me?” All of that stuff together made me realize I needed to go into neuroscience. I graduated high school with a 3.9 GPA, and I was salutatorian. You can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen, as I have found out, because that’s not how the world works.

I look back at my time growing up, and I realize I’ve been through a lot. A lot of people would break from all of that, and I have been sad, but I think everything I’ve gone through makes me a better person. I’ve grown from it. And here at MSU, I can only grow more. Like, if I hadn’t left Detroit, I wouldn’t have learned independence–how pay my own bills, live on my own. I adapted to college, which wasn’t easy at first. There was definitely a culture shock, because where I come from most people are black and Hispanic (I happen to be both). I mean, I knew there were other races, but I didn’t interact with them daily.

Sometimes the differences come out in little ways, sometimes big ones. Like, when I first got here, I was in my dorm playing music and someone knocked on my door and she was like, “Hey, can you quiet down?”  I gave her attitude like, “What?” I was practically trying to fight her because that’s what I would have done when I was younger. I wasn’t used to having people other than my family tell me what to do.  And that’s when I started to remember everything my father had taught me about respect, and my reputation, and I realized that I’m in a whole different environment where certain things don’t call for the same responses.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but I really feel that if you want something, you have to work for it, and even then, it’s not guaranteed. We can’t all win the lottery. If I did, I may not even be in school, I’d be set.

You know what? No. I have to be here. It’s the only way to build my reputation and learn and earn respect. You have to make a good name for yourself, so reputation is important to me, as it should be for everyone. The first time my dad told me that, I was so young, it may have not actually settled in my brain like it has now, you know? I was too inexperienced to fully understand what my he said and what it meant. Now, because I had to struggle some to actually earn that respect through my actions, I understand it.

Today, I help my friend mentor other girls that have been in similar situations as me. I  show them that college is an opportunity to make  a name for yourself. It’s possible. Everything I went through made me realize that I wanted to reach out and help people. I want to show people that college is about getting an education, but it’s more than that. It’s where you can learn more about yourself, and become who you’re going to be for the rest of your life.

This story originally appeared in Facing College: Diverse Student Voices, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

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