“Early in my childhood I was diagnosed with a learning disability,” said Miguel Williams, recalling a day years ago from the third grade. “Society basically stereotyped me and thought that high school was the furthest that I was going to go,” said the 31-year-old University of the District of Columbia (UDC) graduate.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Williams cites family as the main reason he has been able to graduate after nine years of moving steady towards his goal of a bachelor’s degree.
“I finally was able to finish what I started. I was finally able to prove to myself that I could get a college degree and do anything that I set my mind to,” said Williams.
Though worthy of praise by himself, even more incredible is the fact that Williams is just one of five people in his family to graduate from an institution of higher learning this semester. "The road was paved through our parents,” said Veera Green, mother of Sophia Green, a graduate of the University of Maryland, University College (UMUC) this semester. Green’s own mother was valedictorian in high school and college and stressed the importance of education at an early age, something Green did with her own children later.
“You have to start grooming them at a younger age. You can’t wait until the upper grades like 11th and 12th grade- you cannot wait to lay that foundation,” said Green. “They have to get involved in community activities. It’s not just about being academically smart- you have to be smart all the way around.”
According to the U.S Census Bureau of 2010, 18 percent of the 42 million African Americans in this country have a bachelor’s degree. In fact, the number of black students in the college classrooms nationwide has increased by 1.7 million since 1990 to 2.9 million.
Taking cues from her mother and grandmother, Sophia Green, has successfully carried her leg of the family’s race for education three times over. Green completed a bachelor’s degree in Information Science and Systems from Morgan State University in 2003. This month, she completed her second masters from UMUC in business administration. Green is enjoying a small respite from the classroom before pursuing a Six Sigma Green Belt certification to serve companies on a management level, and she later plans to go after a doctorate degree.
“It was hard. I worked full time and then went to school part time. Sometimes you know you feel like 'I don't want to do schoolwork' but I had to keep going,” said the younger Ms. Green. “I had to press and finish.”
Like his cousin, Perry Harden has no intention of stopping at a bachelor’s degree either. The 21-year old earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from St. Mary’s college this month, and he’s “pretty relieved” he doesn’t have to deal with “staying up late doing homework anymore or the frustrations of college.” Harden says he plans to eventually go to medical school. Born to lawyer parents, Harden joins his older brother, Robert Harden, Jr., 25, in walking across the stage this semester.
The family has always lived in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. and Fort Washington Area, with the exception of Lesherri Thomas, a nursing school graduate this semester, who resides in Montgomery, AL.