This week, I will have conferred upon me the Master of Arts Degree in History from the University of Louisiana Monroe. It has been a long journey for me as I began my education at the university in 1996.
I originally majored in Physical Education in 1996. I wanted to be a PE teacher and a track coach. After being mesmerized by the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, I became a walk-on with the NLU Track Team. For a semester, I studied physical education, sports, kinesiology, and completed 20 hours of observation in physical education classes throughout Ouachita Parish. My direction changed in the Spring of 1997 when I decided to drop out and join the Marines. However, it was the training with NLU’s track and field team that physically prepared me for the challenge of being a Marine.
After I was discharged from the Marines in 2001, I returned to the school with a new name. It was not Northeast Louisiana University anymore. It was then known as the University of Louisiana Monroe. In August of 2001, I resumed classes.
After 2001, in the wake of the 911 Twin Towers attack, I was discouraged. I enrolled and dropped out. I enroll again and dropp out again. I could not stay focused on my studies. I completed a few classes between 2001 and 2005. However, in 2005 I dropped courses after the drop date. I received F marks for those classes and that GPA as well as the bill for those classes were still on my record. This would present me with a problem in 2009 when I finally decided to return and complete the Bachelor’s Degree.
The University allowed me a one-time audit of coursework. I was allowed to drop all of the previous classes of which I had F marks. However, the ones I had As in would also have to be dropped. I was furious that I had to begin again as a new Freshman. However, the audit afforded me with a fresh GPA and a new perspective in those Freshman level courses. From August 2009 until December 2012, I took classes non-stop.
I used funds from the Montgomery GI Bill up until the end of my Sophomore Year. From my junior year until I graduated, I paid for my tuition out of pocket. So between music gigs and photoshoots, I took those profits and paid for my Bachelor’s Degree.
My final year as an undergraduate was the most challenging. Not because of the classes, but because of my living conditions. I did not like the idea of graduating with student loans or debts. I wanted to walk across the stage at commencement with my tuition paid in full. So, I moved out of the house that I was living in and lived in the office building that I was leasing to operate my photography business. I rented out two lockers in the university’s activity center and took showers at the center every day, sleeping in the office suite at night.
For about three months of my senior year, my driver’s license was suspended, due to an insurance lapse. So, as a result, I bought a bicycle from Wal-Mart and rode it to school. I obtained a monthly bus pass from the Monroe Transit Authority and daily I put my bicycle on the front rails and transited to the university. Often I’d ride the bicycle back when I didn’t want to wait for the bus.
The experience was a great lesson in frugality and determination. I was going to graduate on time and I didn’t allow even living accommodations to stand in the way of reaching that goal. I often hear people complain about why they can’t find the time or the means to get a college degree. On many times I’ve shared my senior year story and advised that one must do whatever is necessary, even if that means relocating or trimming the fat off of a life of creature comforts.
When I enrolled at the Graduate School in 2014, I also paid for tuition out of pocket. I was working as a teacher at Minnie Ruffin Elementary at the time. I didn’t have the funds to go back, however, the University was willing to pay the tuition if I’d serve as a Graduate Assistant. This would require me to be a full-time student, of which I’d have to stop teaching. I didn’t hesitate. I took the opportunity.
In January 2020, I was out of a job and without a steady income. I also lost my health benefits. The pressure began to build. I had worked out a plan before I decided to quit teaching, but things were not going as planned and the near future looked gloomy.
In March, Governor John Bel Edwards issued a stay-home order in wake of the Coronavirus. This order closed down restaurants, churches and public gatherings. My income dried up. I thought to myself “the devil is really trying me”. However, I was determined and was not going to let the challenges overtake me. I was going to complete this degree.
I finally made it to May 2020. I passed the Comprehensive Examination and then passed all of my classes. It was a very challenging semester, but I, with the help of God, was victorious in the end. It was a great journey that carried me through a Trail of Tears as an NLU “Indian.” However, in the end, I took flight and spread my wings as a “Warhawk”.