Panelists discussed the sacrifices they made to pursue their college and post graduate dreams.
By Megan Reed
The Dwelling Place, Church of God in Christ (COGIC), held a panel discussion that featured their members who recently received bachelor’s and postgraduate degrees. The theme of this event was “Lifted by Learning: African American History through Education.”
"We understand the phenomenal responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the church to impart knowledge and impact our community in healthy ways,” Pastor Ryan Sims said. “Education is the prime key that will unlock untapped vision, promising potential and suppressed innovation. We were proud to host such a quorum of scholarly individuals to speak over the lives within our community, unlocking the greatness that rests inside."
The panel included Imani Brooks, University of California, Riverside; Jeremy Guyton, Georgetown University; Candice Johnson, California State University, Los Angeles; Shelbea Raynea Roberson, Hampton University; Ivonne Saracay-Smith, California State University, Los Angeles/Antioch University; Jonathan P. Sims, Azusa Pacific University/Birmingham School of acting; and Dr. Jennifer Williams Lewis, University of California, Los Angeles/Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine.
For a number of the panel members, the lessons that they learned while pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees has helped them in their professional careers.
“Going to an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), the professors were on us because they wanted us to be successful,” Roberson said. “We didn’t get special treatment. They gave us the real deal. I had to write 20 page papers, and they gave us multiple pop quizzes. I learned to always be prepared, because you never know what’s going to happen, and to always be on time.”
Higher education is expensive, and pursuing certain professions may not produce high incomes in the beginning, but each of the panel members made sacrifices to follow their dreams and achieve their goals.
“The struggle is hard, and the struggle is real, but if you’re following what you’re passionate about, the struggle is worth it,” Jonathan P. Sims said. “Following exactly what you want to do isn’t always the most financially-sound idea. So coming out of school I made up my mind that I was not going back to retail. I was not going to do anything that had nothing to do with what I wanted to do artistically. That had me struggling for about two years. But I can say now that I’m glad that I didn’t comprise what I wanted to do because I am where I want to be.”
Many students plan out their path through higher education, with their sole focus on their school work. But many students have to manage the twists and turns of life, which could knock a person off of their path.
“I was accepted to grad school, and in two years I would be done,” Saracay-Smith said. “And then I was going to do this, and then I was going to do that. But right when I got accepted I became pregnant. That was not in my plans, so I had to learn how to be flexible with change, and not having control of everything. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow of life.”
Pursuing higher education is not always linear. While many students go from high school to college to postgraduate school in consecutive years, many students take different routes.
Johnson made the decision to enter the workforce right out of high school. She progressed through her professional career, she was making a good living and she started a family; but she still saw the value in becoming a college graduate. While many people struggle to go back to school after being a part of the workforce, she was able to go back to school.
“I didn’t want the story of my life to be, ‘Don’t be like me, go to college,’” she said. “Or I didn’t want to have to tell my son, ‘Oh, you know, I wanted to go to college, but then I had you.’ I wanted to be a good example.”
Lewis also made the decision to leave the workforce to pursue her dreams.
“I took time off between college and starting med school,” she said. “I did work a full-time job, and I was accustomed to making a certain amount of money. It was difficult to give it up to become a full-time student again, and going back from being able to take care of myself to depending on loans and scholarships.
“All of your friends that you graduated college with have their nice salary jobs, and they’re paying off their student loans, and they’re buying property now. You all are the same age, but now you’re in school again. Dealing with that was difficult. I was still working on my dreams, which seemed forever. I think that how you view your journey and how you view your struggles are a huge part of being successful.”
One of many things that all of the panelists have in common is that they all gave up short-term freedoms to achieve their long-term goals.