It is the week before my high school graduation. The final days and hours are ticking away, and I am anxiously awaiting the moment I hear my name, NDRE Thomas, called into the microphone, the moment my hands finally clasp my diploma.
I have been looking forward to this moment for six years, ever since I sat in the audience of my sister’s high school graduation in 2013. Watching each member of her class declare their college plans on stage, I could not wait to cross that stage myself. Now that the day is quickly approaching, I cannot contain my excitement. It’s really happening; I, NDRE Thomas, am going to be a freshman at Northeastern University in the fall!
College Was Not Part of My Future Plans
To be honest, I never thought I’d be uttering those words. As a child in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, college was not part of my future plans or even dreams. Among Witnesses, it is the custom for children, after they graduate high school, to stay associated with the religion and not attend college. In fact, research shows that only 12% of Witnesses earn bachelor’s or advanced degrees, the lowest of any religious group, and as a result, Witnesses have among the lowest annual earnings of any religious group. As such, higher education is not something I knew or ever even considered for myself when I was younger.
I was first introduced to the idea of college through my older sister. She attended Boston Prep, and through her, I came to know about the school’s mission to prepare all students to succeed in four-year colleges. When I watched her graduate, my heart was set afire. As I watched her go to college though, and observed my father’s deep disagreement with her decision, I struggled with what that meant for me.
As I, too, began my journey through Boston Prep, I soon found that I was being pulled in half—with my school igniting a passion for learning and a drive for greatness in me and, on the other side, my parents and religious community urging me to stay focused on our religious pursuits. At times, I felt like I was living a double life.
Effort Determines Success
In high school, surrounded by teachers who care and who inspired me to strive for more, I began to fully embrace the importance of attending college. I made it my goal to achieve strong academic standing to enable the best college options. My parents made it clear that they did not support my desire to attend college and therefore I would need to get enough scholarships to cover my tuition. This only fueled my eagerness to earn high grades. I had made up my mind. I would do whatever it took to make my dream a reality. As we say at Boston Prep, effort determines success—and I put in every effort, day and night, to ensure I achieved success.
Inevitably, all that hard work paid off. Over time, as they watched me pour myself into my studies, my parents came to see how much this dream of going to college meant to me. They came to accept and support my decision to go to college.
At first, they wanted me to commute. Then one day, surprisingly, as my transition to college drew closer, my dad came to me and told me that he wanted me to live on campus for the first year, at the very least. Although I’ve never questioned him regarding his change of heart, I believe it had much to do with the fact that he knew I was pursuing this dream not to defy him or our religious beliefs, but so that I could create a successful future. Instead of keeping me from my dreams, he decided to help me on my path to a promising career.
My journey to this day, to this tremendous steppingstone, has not been an easy one. But, in a sense, I’m grateful that this has been my path. It has taught me the importance of hard work and dedication because without such, I would not have achieved my goal of attending a four-year university this upcoming fall.
As I approach graduation, I am overjoyed that just days from now, I will grasp my diploma in my hand and with tremendous pride—and the support of my parents—I will announce loudly to the crowd words that I fought so hard to be able to say: “My name is NDRE Thomas, and this fall, I will be attending Northeastern University!”