On Wednesday I had the privilege of representing Tarleton State University Upward Bound program as a TRiO Achiever at the 2017 TASSSP Conference. Such a fun and amazing experience. See the video below:
Don’t Stop Achievin’
Hello everyone! Thank you for honoring me as a TRiO Achiever at this year’s conference. It truly is an honor to be here. Jenny and Jeff, I am where I am today because of both of you.
I have to tell you that I love this year’s theme of “Don’t Stop Achievin’”, and as any karaoke queen would know, Journey sure knew what they were doing when they wrote that diddly about Believin’. Whether you’ve been in TRiO a day, a year, or a decade, you know it takes “Team Work to Make the Dream Work” so as a TRiO kid I’d like to incorporate that philosophy into my time with you today, if even just to keep you awake.
Every time I say, “Don’t Stop” I need you to follow with “Achieving” with your best karaoke swagger – got it? Let’s practice just to make sure no one gets caught singing by themselves (Practice 2 or 3 times)
Ok, now that everyone is good and awake let’s talk about TRiO…
I’m just a small town girl, living in a lonely world – no, not really. The booming metropolis of Hico, Texas is made up of 1300 people determined to know everything about everyone. Going to college was always the plan, but I needed help getting there.
I can remember the day Jenny came to interview me at school, I’d never met an adult that was so tiny! Go to class on Saturday? Go to school in the Summer? AND you’ll pay me? SOLD! I can remember doing my intake interview with a big man named Cupcake, and his first question was “Do you prefer to play first or third base?” My first Upward Bound meeting was his Master’s Graduation, and I’m sure if you look hard enough there is still a purple icing stain on the carpet in the lecture room of Humanities. “Don’t Stop…”
My first summer was awesome, as most first years of a grant cycle often are. We traveled 5 of 6 weekends together, and I can still remember begging my mom to come get me so I could eat a bologna sandwich at home – talk about homesick. We had a banquet the last night we were together, followed by everyone’s favorite TRiO activity: a DANCE! The next morning we moved out, cleaned out, and left the bubble we’d shared together for the last 6 weeks. That was the last time I’d see one of my friends, a UB sister, and the worst phone call I’d received in my short 15 years. “Don’t Stop…”
My second summer was cut short by a once in a lifetime trip to Brazil. I STILL appreciate the UB staff for allowing that to count as my summer work, rather than having to do the makeup assignments. I’ll never forget Jeff’s face when I handed him a half-naked woman statue to put in his office rather than the shot glass he requested. Little did I know then that Jeff and Jenny were becoming inaugural pieces of my dream team that would open so many doors in my future. “Don’t Stop…”
My third and fourth years were a blur, Senioritis they call it. We lost an additional classmate my Junior year, and once again I found myself relying on my UB family during difficult and seemingly impossible time. I loved my workstudy position, and the additional money that came with it. I loved my first college class, and I loved knowing all the “insider tricks” of Tarleton State University. I was accepted into Texas A&M and Texas Tech, but the little fish in a big pond metaphor never worked for me. Also my younger sisters, the essence of my being, and my top priorities were 20 minutes from TSU and moving away was just not an option.
My four years in UB were the tip of the iceberg into my life as a TRiO kid, and planted the seed of helping others reach their full potential as my life’s mission. Knowing that it took a village, and the promise of home cooked meals, I worked 3 of my 4 undergraduate summers for Cupcake at Weatherford College. When on earth did I become old enough to be in charge of others – much less a large group of high school kids? Jeff and I learned a lot that summer, and I can remember the heart wrenching truth behind the phrase “generational gap” that he loved to throw around. Streetlight people, Livin’ just to find emotion, Hidin’ somewhere in the night – and the laundry room, and the back of the bus, and everywhere they could. Was I that obnoxious? Was I that oblivious? Unfortunately, yes and because of that reality I called each and every one of my RA’s and apologized profusely. “Don’t Stop…”
I graduated from Tarleton in May of 2009 with a Bachelors of Business Administration in Interdisciplinary Business. Not only had I finished in a record setting 4 years, and 2 extra hours over my degree plan but I had NO idea what I was going to do next. Now what? I looked for EVERY reason not to get my Masters, “Singer in a smokey room, smell of wine and cheap perfume” – and could not find one so I loaded my stuff and moved to San Marcos to start at Texas State. One minor freak-out on the manager of Chicken Express over the fact that I had a four year degree and $6.75/hour would indeed not work for me – I landed a spiffy job at a steakhouse that filed for bankruptcy 2 weeks to the date of my first day. “Don’t Stop…”
Ends meet a lot faster when you don’t have to spend money on little things like food and rent. Thankfully UB had taught me fun things like scholarship applications and FAFSA. In the fall of my first year at Texas State I was hired as a Graduate Research Assistant for a pilot collaboration between the College Access Project and Americorps. Now instead of being responsible for high school students, they were mouthy college freshmen and sophomores who literally knew everything, literally. We grew that program and impacted a lot of students. We offered college application help during the day, tutoring after school, FAFSA completion on weekends and became to “Go Center” for students all over Hays County. We wrote a 5 week summer curriculum, and brought the students onto campus for various classes that were specific to their grade level and ended each week with a campus tour – sound familiar? I also had the opportunity to complete the required internship for my degree with Keylan Morgan’s UB group. In case you lost count, it was all high school and colleges kids vs. Sunny for 5 weeks straight – AND I got to live in the dorms. “Oh, the movie never ends it goes on and on and on.” I cannot praise you enough for the work that you do with students, and believe me when I say “I do not envy you.” “Don’t Stop…”
San Marcos was a lesson that had to be learned firsthand. I was first generation, I was low income, I worked for everything I had – but I do not speak Spanish. I can care with all of my being about you going to college, take hours to explain the college going process and answer any and all questions you, your parents, and your grandparents have – but when my passion is lost in translation, so is my effectiveness. I left defeated but determined, and completed my last semester online while working fulltime. My first ‘big girl’ job was at WC as the Assistant Director of Housing, and luckily there was a familiar face with an office down in the dorms. I graduated in May of 2011 with a Masters of Education in Physical Education Specializing in Sports Management. Back on home turf, my UB involvement continued as a Coach and grader for Academic Bowl – not nearly as much fun as playing and competing but ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ remember? If you hear nothing I say today, hear this: NO JOB IS AS BAD AS BEING A DORM DIRECTOR 365 DAYS A YEAR “Don’t Stop…”
My time at WC lead to my current position with Junior Achievement, where I get to work with students, be the fun one in the classroom, and get to go home to my own bed EVERY SINGLE NIGHT – it’s wonderful. 2nd grade is my niche, we have the same sense of humor and all the same jokes. Turns out I’m really good at asking people for money, and much to my surprise programs like JA and UB to do not run on money that grows on trees. August will be 3 years since I’ve been in a position “To inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy” and I’ve loved every day of it.
I married the cutest South African you have ever seen on November 12, 2016 and have learned all about how ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ and the laundry, and the dishes, and taking care of our obscenely obese cat, Ian. In January 2015 I was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. I can tell you with absolute certainty that ALS sucks all day, every day but I’m in this battle to win the war. So far I’ve defied the statistics, rewritten the definition a of typical ALS patient, and kept my sense of humor through the loss of my balance, muscle control, and independence. “Don’t Stop…”
I’ve been blessed beyond reason by you, and others like you, for your dedication, encouragement, and support of my future. So thank YOU for what you did yesterday for students like us here on stage before you, for what you do for the students you work with today, and for the students of tomorrow like my sweet nephew Peyton who is here today. His mother and her twin sister are the driving force behind my continuous commitment to success, and his future is the reason I’m invested in tomorrow. Can you imagine how cute he’s going to grow up to be? Look out world.
Thank you, Jenny and Jeff for nominating me, loving me, and dragging me to the adult-ish person I am today. I’ve learned a lot from both of you, to always check the gas gauge when going long distances with a van full of students, and to never put a sun on a UB shirt unless you want it to rain the entire summer. My most important Thank You is to my Mama, I love you for all that you did to make sure us girls were taken care of, for pushing us to be better than we knew how, and for raising us to stand up for ourselves.
So, I leave you with this: don’t stop believing, hold on to that feeling…