Beating the odds in college completion: Adinawa’s story

Growing up, I spent much of my time working alongside my parents, and it was there that I learned many of the things that continue to motivate each day.  The most important lesson I learned: that strength and endurance are not inherited traits. These attributes are learned through our most difficult times – experiences that almost break us – but through which we persevere. The trying times that take courage. As the oldest of four, it has always been especially important for me to be strong and to be the best example I could be for my siblings.

As an immigrant, this strength and endurance did not always come easily to me. I remember when my family first moved to Texas, we didn’t have the money for a car so we had to walk everywhere, no matter how hot it was outside. My family had very little money for necessities. And to add to our difficult circumstances, I struggled at school with reading because I was an ELL student. My path was not easy.

But it was during this difficult time that I learned I could overcome any obstacle with determination and perseverance. The fact that my parents have made so many sacrifices for my education drove me then and continues to drive me forward day after day.

My journey to college

Of all my responsibilities growing up, one of the greatest has been acting as a role model for my siblings. Both of my parents always impressed upon us the importance of education, teaching us to be dedicated to our academics, and doing our best to ensure we stay devoted to our studies. I knew I was setting the bar for my other siblings when it came to graduating high school and going on to attend college, so I was determined to make it to the finish line.

This is what set me on the journey that eventually brought me to the place I’ve called home for the last year: Harvard University. It’s a place that seems so familiar now, but was difficult to navigate when I first arrived on campus. My first year as a first-generation student was certainly a tough one, and it challenged me more than I’d like to admit.

There were times when I struggled to find my place among my peers. I didn’t know what I should study, and I felt intimidated by the great achievements of my classmates. Knowing where I came from – and that many people were relying on me to succeed – added yet another level of pressure that I had to get this right. I learned a great deal about myself through these challenges, discovered new, unexpected weaknesses and embraced my new strengths.

Looking back at that formative time, I had a few learnings that I want to pass on to others who are the first in their families to attend college:

  • Studying in college is much more intense than studying in high school. I was surprised by this since studying had never been an issue for me, so this has been an ongoing learning process for me throughout the semester. Early in the semester I realized how easy it is to get distracted from school work, so I learned how to make studying a priority.
  • Thriving at college means engaging in a new level of self-understanding. I had to come to terms with the fact that what worked for me before could be enhanced by trying new ways of learning.
  • I asked for help when I needed it. I learned not to be afraid to visit my professors during office hours, or reach out to my counselor if I ever felt like I was having a difficult time.

These lessons were central to my success, and I believe they will be important to my siblings – and others like us – to understand as they enroll at college.

With plenty of hard work and determination, I know I can achieve anything.

Looking ahead

The challenges I faced growing up led to a very formative year of college for me, and a great start to one of the best adventures of my life. Not only have I grown both in and out of the classroom, but I’ve also had the chance to join and be embraced by some of the most welcoming and supportive communities. I’ve made lifelong friends.

I am certain that the college years to come will continue to bring with them new challenges, and I’m beginning to feel secure enough to face them. I know I will continue to thrive as I honor the hope of the many generations before me.  And with plenty of hard work and determination, I know I can achieve anything.