I am grateful for my education, but I am not in love with my student loans. Watching my parents smiling and being so proud on graduation day is one of my happiest memories. I am the first one in my family to finish grad school. I know how lucky I am to have attended Georgetown and Rice, where as my parents never went to college. And in 15-20 years, when I finally pay off my loans, I will feel even luckier.
I was an inner city kid, growing up in the 80s/90s Harlem, NY. We had drug dealers and crime. You didn’t go outside to play in the streets. You stayed inside at your apartment or went to your friend’s apartment. I was in a comfortable environment because everyone looked like me, spoke English and Spanish, were Black and Hispanic. But unlike some of my peers, I stood out because I tried to keep my head on straight, go to school, and stay out of trouble.
For me, education was the way out of the poverty and crime that was around me as a kid. I am not ashamed of where I grew up, but I wanted something different from the life I knew. In my mind, being accepted into an Ivy League type school was the quintessential symbol of getting away. I set that as my goal and went for it. I didn’t even apply to state schools because I was way too proud. In hindsight, was the name recognition worth the hefty tuition? Anywhere you go, being top of the class is being top of the class, and you will have opportunities because of it. The advice I give my little cousins now is to apply to schools that will offer them the most scholarships.
I am sure it would be different if I went into a more lucrative career in banking or law. I probably would have paid off the debts by now, but instead, I followed my passion and went into media and entertainment (not as lucrative). But it is the people I meet that define whether an experience was worth it. In that sense, Georgetown was totally worth it. Plus it wasn’t just for me. It was for my family, for my cousins coming after me. I had a responsibility to finish school.
The things I’ve learned about myself? I love big cities, the hustle and bustle, and the energy. For a while, I thought I wanted to get away from it all, live in a green rural area. The exact opposite of where I grew up. Eventually, I got what I wanted, but I only lasted there for about a year. It was a complete fish out of water experience. I am a city girl. Since then I’ve been to some of the biggest, busiest cities in the world. Mumbai, Mexico City, London, I am comfortable there. Put me in any big city and I will be okay.
Although I will always see myself as a proud New Yorker, there is no longer a place that feels like home. Having lived in Washington, DC, Atlanta, and now Houston, I feel like a visitor everywhere I go. It’s people who remind me of home – people who have known me for a long time. My aunt still lives where I grew up. When I visit, I see some of the same people on the same corners doing the same things. My old apartment feels a lot smaller; my room is not much bigger than a shoebox – how much bigger it seemed when I was a kid.
The best advice I can offer is – don’t settle for anything less than what you want. Don’t be limited by your circumstances. Keep pushing if you don’t get things the 1st time. Keep going after what you want. Hard work and persistence pay off.