It hadn’t occurred to me until I was a week or two away from graduating from Lane Technical High School that I hadn’t finalized my next academic plans. Receiving college acceptances wasn’t the problem— coming to terms with the enormous amount of debt I would be taking on for the next four years was. It wasn’t until a friend of mine mentioned the Star Scholarship offered by City Colleges of Chicago that I started to see a path ahead. Luckily, I had completed high school with a GPA of at least 3.0, which made me eligible. Once I realized that this scholarship, which happened to be the only one I had received so far, would not only cover my tuition but also provide for my books, the right decision became crystal clear.

I entered Wilbur Wright with enough AP and Dual Enrollment credit hours to fulfill my associate degree requirements a semester early. With this realization, I felt empowered to make the most of my time at Wright. In addition to taking classes, I was also working part-time at Mariano’s. Eventually, I applied for a role in the Advising and Transfer Center as a Star Scholar Ambassador. This would mark some of the most memorable moments in my experience at the community college. I had the pleasure of working alongside college advisors and learning from them, gaining as much knowledge and advice as possible to prepare for my transition to a four-year institution. They even supported me in becoming a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society! There were also outreach events where I had the opportunity to share my community college experience with enthusiastic high school seniors who, like me, were searching for the right path to success.

Despite pursuing a curriculum that prioritized STEM courses, I found myself doubting whether a computer science degree was truly what I wanted. These musings brought about a lot of self-reflection and research until I discovered CS+ Advertising—a new degree program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I was immediately curious about what a career in advertising might look like, and I felt the excitement that can only be experienced when you know you’re on the verge of something life-changing. With this newfound fervor, I embarked on a single-minded mission: to gain admission to UIUC as a CS+ Advertising major.

After numerous emails to representatives from UIUC and CCC advisors, the time had finally come to enter the transfer portal and apply for my major. However, there was one issue. The CS+ Advertising major did not accept spring applicants. I was devastated by this news, but I quickly realized that I couldn’t dwell on the negative. I needed to devise a new plan of action and make a pivot. So, I applied to UIUC as a Communications major and was officially accepted. By January of 2020, I was on my way to a new campus. I had no idea what was to come—a second round of transferring that would finally place me into the Advertising program without Computer Science, a global pandemic that would permanently alter life as we all knew it, or the many mentors that would help me navigate the world of advertising and find my place within it as a Black woman.

In the end, the various aspects of my academic journey formed a portrait of unwavering determination and resilience against all odds. Every setback has truly worked in my favor and brought me to where I am today. I started as a community college and university graduate and have now become a copywriter at an advertising agency. I am constantly striving for success and pushing against my own boundaries and limiting beliefs. The journey never ends, but for now, I can look back and say that I’m proud of everything I’ve been able to accomplish and the people and places that were instrumental in making my dreams a reality.