Hi, my name is Vashti and this is me six years ago in my senior portrait. When you look at this picture, you probably see just a pretty face, a pretty smile, pretty hair, hell just by looking at this photo you might even think that when I was in high school…I had it all. That is not the case, like every high school girl, I had insecurities. Insecurities of my looks, athleticism, and believe it or not academics.
My story is not a “once upon a time” type of story, where you have the perfect student, perfect daughter, and perfect sister, growing up in a perfect home. The truth is, that story does not even exist in anyone’s life. Everyone has a battle that they are facing. This is me with my dad in the fourth grade at my Baresville Elementary School graduation in Hanover, Pennsylvania. I look happy right? Well…I’m not. You are looking at the photo of an insecure seven year old girl. Can you believe it?! Seven years old and I am already feeling insecure about the way I look and how I academically perform in elementary school. Trust me, there was a reason for this insecurity. This is my educational testimony.
The Set Back
I was diagnosed with a learning disability when I was six years old. I remember like it was yesterday. My mom and dad moved my brother and I from Baltimore, Maryland to Hanover, Pennsylvania for the opportunity of receiving a more effective education. Before I could start school, I had to do all of this testing that seemed to be overwhelming to me at the time. When I look back, it was not that bad. I tested in all areas from reading, writing, to mathematics, you name it. When my test results came back, my parents and I were in a board meeting room with teachers and educators, and they had told my parents and I both that my result were not good and that I would need special attention in all of classes. What made this situation worse, was that we were all told that I would never overcome my learning disability, that college would never even be an option for me, and that I would always need special attention in all of my classes.
I just remember my mom being upset and feeling like everything was her fault. That she had failed as a mother because her child had an academic learning disability. Although, educators consoled her reassured her that it was not her fault and that learning disabilities are common in most children, that still did not make the situation any better. Deep down I felt stupid and I felt like I was incapable of comprehension and learning. In fact, I felt so bad, that at one point I asked myself, a seven year old, “why should I even continue going to school if I can’t learn and if I can’t go to college.” As a result of my failing test scores, I was placed in IEP (Individualized Education Program), a program that is used in public schools to focus on the special needs for children with learning disabilities. Not only did being an IEP student trigger my insecurity, but my looks contributed to it as well. When I tell you I was one of the few black girls in my school, I mean I was probably one of five.
So here I am, seven years old, I can’t learn and I can’t even make my hair as straight and as pretty as the white girls in my class. Feeling like an outsider physically and academically stayed with me for the longest time. I hated coming to school because I could not be in the same classrooms as my friends. I hated coming to school because I was embarrassed of the kinks in my hair. Not to mention, at the time my parents were separated, and I did not see my dad on a regular basis. When I look back, I just hated almost everything that I could not understand why it was the way that it was. My insecurities of my looks and my learning carried all throughout elementary to middle school.
I think it is safe to say that middle is the most pivotal moment during adolescence. Going into middle school, I felt comfortable because my brother was there. Although his classes took place on the second floor, it was still reassuring for me knowing that he was close by. Middle school was the time I started to get involved in extra-curricular activities. I joined the choir, joined the cheer leading team, got involved in theater and drama club, and even became a peer helper. I guess being involved with extra-curricular activities helped me remain confident in myself. Confident in the fact that I was good in other things. I may not have been a straight “A” student, but I was one talented performer and singer.
Although I was involved in many in school and outside of school activities, I still remained unfulfilled in my academics. I still hated learning because I could never get the “A” that I wanted, I always needed the extra help, and I still could never understand or comprehend what I was learning. I hated learning so much, that it got to the point where every time my comprehension lacked in academics or life lessons, I used my learning disability as an excuse. Basically what I am trying to say is, I allowed my learning disability cripple me, and started to actually believe I will never be a great learner because of it. But one day, I just got tired of feeling bad for myself and I got tired of making excuses.
One day I just decided that I was going to make a commitment to myself. The commitment of always doing my best even when I was wrong. It was not until seventh or eight grade I really started seeking the guidance of why I was not receiving the grades I thought I deserved. I asked for helped every time and to have done that, I had to understand that seeking help does not mean you are stupid, it just means you want to do better. That’s exactly what I wanted too. I wanted to get better and become a stronger learner. The more I committed to this mindset the stronger I became in my learning and comprehension. I got so good to the point where one day a teacher of mine saw the hard work that I had put in and she saw my potential.
I was in eighth grade when she removed me from IEP. I remember exactly how it all happened! As I was leaving for my next class, my teacher pulled me aside. Her name was Miss Becker and she said to me, “I am removing you from IEP and I am going place you in an academic class. You have worked so hard and have proved that there is nothing wrong with you and that you will be just fine without it.” She then continued to say that she will reach out to my mom and make sure that she is aware of what is going on as well, but as far as she was concerned, I did not have a learning disability. I did not know what confidence and good self-esteem meant until that day. I went home that evening tickled pink, jumping in my shoes, exhilarated, that I had made the impossible possible.
I entered high school taking general courses without any IEP assistance. By this time, I was really just starting to realize how beautiful I was. So you can imagine the confidence I was feeling as I was going in. I felt beautiful and I felt smart! Two things I have never felt until the ninth grade. Just like middle school, I joined the Women’s Chorus and Concert Choir. Music was my escape from insecurity because it was the one thing I knew I could never fail at doing. Overwhelmed with excitement that I was going into high school as an honors student, I was quite nervous at the same time. My fear was that I would fail and not do well in high school at all because I was so used to having the extra help from elementary to middle school.
What do I do if I fail? What do I do if I don’t understand? Are these teachers going to look at me like I am stupid? Are they going to work with me like the rest of my IEP teachers worked with me? These were constant thoughts going through my head as I walked the halls of South Western High School. However, once again I was not alone. Big brother was there and this time we had classes all on the same floor, so I saw him every single day! Of course, I felt comfortable! Not only was having my brother there with me a good feeling, but there were teachers there that already knew me and believe it or not, knew about my educational background! There was one teacher specifically that always checked up on me in my classes, and her name was Mrs. Brodbeck.
She knew my concerns and knew what my shortcomings were and it is because of that she never let me fail. She always reassured me that I can and that I will overcome the challenges that I face. She was right. She was always right. I can’t count how many times she might have said “I told you.” Despite the fact that I did struggle and that I did receive some failing grades in my classes, I never let that stop me. In fact, I used that failure as fuel to help spark my fire of success! When I needed the help I asked for it. When I needed tutoring I was not embarrassed to admit it. When I needed an explanation of what I was doing wrong and how could I do it right, I asked for one. The point I am trying to make here, is I determined my success. The teachers that I had were the resources who contributed to it all.
Senior year I made distinguished honor roll! I am going to be honest, I did not even know what the hell distinguished honor roll was at first. I had to look the word up in the dictionary and even ask a teacher what it was, but basically I had received nothing but A’s and B’s in my senior year! Okay…mostly A’s! But that was something I never thought I would see the light of! Me?!? The girl with the learning disability?!?! The girl who needed IEP?!?! Made distinguished honor roll?!?! There is a God, and He got me through academic challenges.
Senior year was really a bitter sweet time for me when I think about it. It was the year I realized what my shortcomings were and how to deal with them, it was the year I went to my first and only prom, and it was also the year my grandfather passed away. He did not even get a chance to see me walk across the stage to receive my Diploma. I know he would have been proud of me though. He and my grandmother both.
I graduated high school as a distinguished honor roll student. Was it easy? No. Was it rewarding? Yes. It prepared me for what many others told me was impossible, which was college. Yeah right! College being impossible?! Not a chance!
The Road to Success
Prior to graduation, a federal state employee met with my parents and I and informed us, that because of my learning disability it was not recommended that I seek higher education and that I should go straight into the work force. While it was this federal worker’s advice to go into the work force, I had some teachers that encouraged me to go to school, and that is exactly what I did. While pursuing my Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Journalism, I sang on the Albright College Gospel Choir, Albright College’s Women’s Chorale, wrote for the school newspaper, became a produce and host for Albright College’s WXAC 91.3FM Radio Station, and even interned at KITV 4 News in Honolulu, Hawaii.
I made great friends along the way too during my college experience. Some who came and some who went, but having them in those moments of the stressful college life made a huge difference. Sure we had our differences and ups and downs, but we still got each other through those college struggles.
There were times where I felt like I couldn’t and that I would never, but we all know that was the fear talking. I did not know what to think going into college. If high school was a challenge, I could only imagine how difficult college would be. I was right. It was hard! One day I remember being so frustrated and so mad at my grades, that I just sat in my professor’s office and just cried. I cried like a baby. I kept receiving bad grades and after going to office hours, tutoring, and studying, I still received failing grades! What was I doing wrong?! As I sat there and cried in the chair my professor asked me, “why are you crying?” I replied, “because I am trying, I am pushing myself, I am doing everything I can to succeed in this class and I keep failing! I am worried that I am going to fail this course!” Her reply, “Fail? Vashti….I am not going to let you fail!”
Those were the words of Dr. Teresa Gilliams, a graduate of Howard University, a sister of Delta Sigma Theta, and a woman who forever changed my life. When she said she was not going to let me fail, she meant it, and I didn’t fail. Just like Miss Becker and Mrs. Brodbeck, Dr. Gilliams was there every step of the way. She was not only professor, but she was also my mentor, and still is to this day. On May 24, 2015, I walked across the stage to receive my Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Journalism.
I did exactly what I was told I would not be able to do. When I was told I would forever need IEP all throughout my education experience, I fought back and was removed from IEP in the eighth grade. When I was detoured from going to college after high school, I detoured back and went anyway. When I was told I would never be able to graduate from college because of my learning disability, I did anyway. When I thought I was going to fail, well….I did, but I still prevailed. I never gave up, I never let fear stop me, and I promised myself that I would never ever let my IEP cripple me again. I was going to do the impossible by not just proving others wrong, but by proving myself wrong.
I always had the right people in my corner. God always made a way for me. I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but He did. He picked me up when I was down and when He wasn’t readily available when I wanted Him to be, He sent me guardian angels in flesh. Through those angels I conquered. Through those angels I succeeded. Through those angels my faith was always restored, and with that restored faith, my restored spirit is what made it all happen.
When I was tired my faith in God fought for me. When I was afraid, my prayers consoled me. When I felt uncertainty or doubt, my wisdom spoke. I am 24 years old now and I love learning and I enjoy education. I value the knowledge and growth in becoming an empowered learner. In November of 2017 I will be receiving a Master of Arts in Strategic Communications. In the Fall of 2018 I will be pursuing another Master of Arts and in the near future I will pursue a PhD.
So what is my message to you? Whoever you are reading this, boy or girl, man or woman, gay or straight, black or white…my message to you is to is to never give up on yourself. Stay the course. This too shall pass. If I could do it then so can you. Give yourself credit and don’t be hard on yourself, because trust me that job position is already filled by the world. Be your own team! Be your own trainer, your own coach, and your very own cheer leader! But while doing that, don’t forget about who God has placed in your corner. He does not expect you to fight every war yourself. While be a conqueror be a team player, and remember through Christ all things are possible and He always has a plan for your future.
Jeremiah 29:11 – Philippians 4:13