The promise that changed my life..
I’m sitting nervously in the waiting area of William Paterson University’s admissions’ office waiting for my early decision day interview. My mother is sitting next to me, and I suddenly find myself in a vivid memory.
We’re sitting in the living room of our 1-bedroom apartment in Miami, I was in first or second grade. The furniture is all worn, and none of it matches because they’ve all been donated. The couch serves as a bed for my sister and I, who sleep toe to toe. I’m wearing donated clothes, and we’re listening to a tape recording playing on a cassette player that we received as a gift.
It’s a recording of me as a baby sitting on the potty late at night. Apparently, I was feeling chatty and relaying a dream I just had to tell my parents—who ran for the tape recorder to capture the memory. We got into a conversation about how my sleep pattern was off because finals are approaching, and both my parents were struggling to keep up with a bedtime routine while pulling all-nighters; studying and working on final projects.
I’m reminded how tough it was to have a baby while in college, and how lucky they were that they received scholarships, so they didn’t have to pay for tuition or living quarters. Knowing that we were struggling financially, even as a child, I felt a sudden sense of responsibility to assure them their sacrifices would not be in vain. I was going to step up. I was suddenly making one of the most important promises I would make in my life.
“Don’t worry, I know we don’t have the money for me to go to college. That’s why I’m going to get a scholarship, like you did! I promise!”
My attention is back to the present. I glance over to my mother and my stomach turns, because I can’t bear the thought of breaking that promise. My name is called and realize I haven’t been breathing. I take a breath and walk in.
Everything I had done up until this point had been all about my promise. I knew that I wanted a better life for my future family, and an education would help me accomplish that. I also knew that my family could not afford to pay for it. So I worked as hard as I could and researched how to get a scholarship. I made sure I followed the formula: good grades, SAT scores, extracurricular activities, sports, a winning essay, and, just to be sure, an application to a school with a modest tuition.
We were living in NJ by now and, though I had dreams of going back to Miami for college, the closest thing to “home” I knew, we couldn’t afford the out-of-state tuition. It seemed like a small sacrifice compared to the hand my parents had been dealt.
I received the Trustee Scholarship, covering 100% of the cost of tuition, for academic achievement that day.