This was a real turning point in my life. My first semester of grad school brought more changes than I was expecting.
July 8, I picked up a new job at Walmart. It was summer, I needed the extra cash and I was getting ready to move into a new apartment with my best friend. This new job probably wouldn’t have been a big deal except I wasn’t thinking about the differences between undergrad and grad school.
August 14, I started my job as a Graduate Research Assistant (GRA). Thankfully, the woman who hired me to work at the library during my freshman year was now over the GRAs and hired me on when I graduated.
I was an eager beaver all through my undergraduate career, taking more classes than necessary, and of course I aimed to do the same. I always made it work in undergrad and I was determined to do the same in grad school. That was my first mistake and impacted my journey in the best way.
In September I knew I was going to have to put my money where my mouth was and get a new car, something I had been talking about since 2015, I even got a credit card that May to build credit cause I knew I would have to get the car on my own. I decided to officially set that goal. I would have a brand new car by the end of 2017. I planned to buy it in December when they get rid of the old cars to make room for the new ones.
This probably shouldn’t have been my goal, but I also don’t regret it. What did this new goal mean for me? It meant working 20 hours as a GRA every week and 25-30+ hours every week at Walmart, while also taking 16 credit hours of grad school and being secretary of the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA). I had a lot going on, and I was trying to have some sort of social life as well.
I’m sure you can guess how badly I struggled. All of this took a toll on me in so many ways. I was making money, but it all went into a savings account that I wouldn’t let myself touch under any circumstances, so I always felt broke and didn’t have money to spend after bills were paid each month.
On top of that I was taking two analytics courses. I thought that a Marketing Analytics Concentration and subsequent certificates would make me more competitive after graduation. I learned how much I do not enjoy looking at data for extended periods of time. I’m good with gathering and interpreting, but it’s not something I’m passionate about. By the end of the semester, I had to drop one of these classes before I failed it. I hated the course; I took it online so I’d have more time to work. I would email the professor and get more explanation from people taking the in-class option than him, and I wasn’t enjoying the content of the course. I took it pretty hard, I had never dropped a course before and I always believed that you could pass a class regardless if you put in enough effort. I felt like I failed myself for not giving the class enough effort.
I spent a lot of time on this new goal I had made. I researched and researched cars. In January 2015, Honda released the Honda HR-V. Not kidding, I fell in love and knew I wanted it. I’ve always wanted an SUV type of car to take road trips, big enough for traveling, but not too big. I also knew that I wouldn’t leave Honda cause they’ve been so loyal to me. My first car of 7 years was a 1990 Honda Civic, I couldn’t go with anything else, but the only SUV type Honda had was the Honda Pilot, until now. I went to multiple dealerships, test drove cars, figured out my range, all the fun stuff that’s involved, right?
Side Note: Something I had heard of, but didn’t really think about until the end of my semester? In my particular program, once you receive a semester letter grade of C, you are officially placed on academic probation. Upon receipt of a third letter grade of C, you are officially dismissed from the program.
November 14, I sat with one of the most obnoxious black men I have ever met. I was stereotyped, I was judged, but I proved my intelligence fairly well. I negotiated, argued, was a boss and I brought Anastasia home! A beautiful White Orchid Pearl 2017 AWD Honda HR-V SUV. (I actually left with her without paying a down payment *brushes shoulder*).
I honestly couldn’t describe how it felt to have her. The time I had put in, the extra shifts, the late nights, the research and I did it on my own. Nobody helped me research. I didn’t have to take a man with me to negotiate. I put in the work and I did it. Unfortunately, this feeling only lasted until January when I got the email. This semester, my FIRST semester, I finished with 1 A, 2 B’s, 2 C’s, and a W. I didn’t tell anyone.
It was the worst semester of my academic career. I finished with a 2.615 GPA. I’ve never had a GPA so low. I was ashamed. I lied to keep up appearances. I struggled all the way through the semester, in my classes and with my mental health. I was a wreck and my car was the only thing that brought me joy or made me feel in any way proud of myself. I was placed on academic probation going into the spring semester and I didn’t tell anyone because I was so ashamed. I felt like I let so many people down.
Looking back on this first semester, I learned more about myself than I ever had. I took those lessons with me into the spring semester, determined to use them to my advantage and do better for myself.