Would you believe me if I told you that I was not supposed to be here? Would you believe that in high school, I consciously decided not to apply to Belmont even though it was the best choice? Maybe, but what if I told you that it was for none of the reasons you may be thinking? From a very young age, I was provided with all the things I needed to be successful, specifically, I was taught to be proud of my heritage and that I was Black. All the things I was taught influenced my choices then and have continued to influence them. Yet, the course of my adult life took a very unexpected route. That route changed the course of everything in my life and it was the most valuable to shaping me become the person I am today. Although I am grateful for this journey, I never thought I would have another chance to be a Bruin.

As I was coming to the end of high school, I decided to attend Fisk University. As a young Black girl in Oakland, CA, I wanted to attend a historically black college. So, I did. Very quickly I learned this was not the experience for me. I felt like an alien in an environment that was curated specifically for someone like me. The world I came from had people from all kinds of backgrounds, I had friends who were first and second-generation Mexican, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Nigerian, and knew people with a variety of sexual orientations and more. I quickly learned that despite its inhabitants looking like me, this new environment was foreign. My perspective was so different and on top of all of that, I was trying to figure out my own sexuality in a place that was not as accepting as where I may have landed on that spectrum. Despite not understanding, my mental health was taking a beating, but all my parents could see was the reflection of that beating in my grades. In hindsight, this was the pivot, the beginning of the downturn I needed. 

From this downturn, I learned everything I needed to be the person I am today. My mother raised me to be a machine and to push myself even when it was hard to do. I never lacked drive, I lacked the will to use the drive because I was self-centered, entitled, arrogant, and most importantly, spoiled. So, I definitely had room for growth. During my early adult years after fake dropping out of college, you know that idea that you will finish although you are no longer going, my parents cut me off. I was a little mad, but I kept pushing, they would help if I absolutely needed but the routine support had stopped completely. Even then, I did not learn, I tried every short cut to survive and it led to destruction at every turn. On a normal day, my aunt called me and gave me something my parents were not good at giving me, reprimand through compassion, as my parents are very pragmatic. She told me I needed to humble myself, that I would be more successful in life and school when I learn that I am not always the smartest person in the room.

The remaining lessons came shortly after this conversation and quickly. A good friend of mine told me that I was too smart to waste my life making stupid life choices. At the time I had a court case for possession and the year before had to spend a weekend in jail for reckless driving. She told me to read the book, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. That conversation and book changed everything, I went from barely having a job to a temp position to a permanent position to the promotion, and from there, my career has been consistently getting better. Then my dad reminded me of something he would tell me as a child to teach me about hard work and the long process it often is to achieve your goals, “remember Lai, constant pressure relentlessly applied.” I took these three lessons amongst all the other small ones I learned along the way and I was able to position myself into having a stable and fruitful life. Despite the typical ups and downs of life, I grew so much during this time.

I decided to finish my degree and set a mental goal of having 2 degrees by the age of 35. Here I am standing tall about to finish my second degree before the age of 35 and may even complete a 3rd at the age of 35. I came to Belmont and I have learned so much about myself. I thought therapy would be the only way I learn about myself and to learn how to be the best version of me, yet, Belmont has done just that. I have rediscovered my love for God through the teaching and stories of various religions but that what I truly rediscovered is myself. Also, I have learned I am capable of finishing something I start which I have never believed was one of my strengths. Lastly, I learned my strengths through the strengths finder to better understand how to leverage my strengths to uplift my weaknesses. I started Belmont in the spring, and I have ended each semester feeling encouraged, supported, and stronger than I was before the semester started rather than the complete depletion I used to feel in school.

Looking back at all these lessons, they are not all the same, but they have one major thing in common, the lesson was on time. It is hard to write this without speaking on the power of the universe in all of this and if you do not know what I mean by the universe, I mean God. The universe has this amazing way of teaching you a lesson over and over until you finally learn it, sometimes it looks like repeated bad days, dating the same type that is not any good for you, or repeated bad circumstances. Yet, the universe will always give you exactly what you want and then give you a distraction to see if you really want what you asked for from it. Lastly, the lessons we hold on to always come to us at the time we when are ready to receive the message and all these lessons were right on time.

Because of these lessons, I view myself and the world around me completely different person than I did before. Honestly, I feel so much more at peace with myself, that I have been given so many tools and resources to be the best version of myself. At this time, I view myself as the best version of me, and, who knows I may cocoon and develop even further at another point in my life. I view myself as a powerful force in this world who can be a spark. I used to believe everyone had the same base level of morals and through my collegiate experience and life experience, I learned that is not true and that view was very adolescent. Now, I have a more realistic view of the world and now I am working at letting go of the expectations I have placed upon the world. The biggest change is that I see myself as a finisher, someone who finishes the things they have started.

I believe my experience at Belmont has provided me the space to be confident in the parts of me that are not my strengths. I feel like a peacock fanning its feathers for the first time and realizing how beautiful it is. It has drastically improved my views of myself, the world, and has made me a better writer because of it. I have never had a problem with facing brick walls because my mother taught me young that as a young black girl, I have to be stronger, better, faster, smarter, and work harder than all my peers to not just survive in this world but to thrive. Belmont has helped me hone in on my voice, to be vulnerable and open when sharing my experiences and thoughts through honesty, compassion, and strength. I have been reintroduced to myself and the kid who wanted to contribute to their community and world but also realizing that I can have a thriving career and be a contribution. I will move on to graduate school to focus on a degree in technology which is the field I work in but I will also use my voice and resources to encourage and support those finding their own way. If I had to reduce my experience at Belmont down to a slogan it would be “Finding Yourself Through Education.”

The Adult Degree program is an important program for adult learners. The two Liberal Studies classes you must take, one at the beginning of your Belmont journey and the one at the end of your journey help you open yourself up to the best version of yourself. The program awards the opportunity for adults who want to complete their degree to have a space that they feel supported to finish. At every turn, I have had the support and resources necessary to not only be successful but to finish my degree. The only qualm about the program which is probably a catch 22 is that your professors do not know that you are in the Adult Degree program. This is good because you are treated like every other student but during the current pandemic, I found that online classes are more stressful and cumbersome than before. When professors do not know you are an Adult Degree learner, you are sometimes bogged down with busywork. But this is not something that should necessarily be fixed but is something to be aware of during your pursuit.

In this journey of finishing my collegiate degree, I ended up at the place I should have been initially, Belmont. Although I do not believe my life would have unequivocally been better had I chose to apply and attend Belmont instead of Fisk, I do believe that the universe has a unique way of finding equilibrium.

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