” . . . Because Rejection Can Lead to Fulfillment”
“You defied several odds in life. You earned your bachelor’s and your master’s degree. You are working within a field of choice that fuels your soul. You started your own company. Congratulations! Now what?” I thought to myself as a passionate professional of color who was making an impact within the realm of higher education. My students and colleagues made me a better version of myself every single day! I was living out one of the professional paths that I imagined I would; supporting in the recruitment, retention, and advancement of students of color in higher education! Yet, I knew in the pits of my stomach, I wanted and needed to do more!
I was nervous to live a life of complacency. Within 2 years working, post graduate school, I was experiencing an itch for a professional environmental change after being inspired by a past political candidate running for local government. Speaking to a group of us at one of his campaign fundraisers he said, working in higher education is great, but if you really want to impact education for the historically marginalized, you must go younger. Restating a point, I was familiar with regarding the impact of the interest young people have towards their education, he said something along the lines of “if we lose children in elementary school, we may lose them for good.” I was reminded that as adults, educators, community members, peers, etc., in this struggle towards educational equality—students need to be inspired young, and that responsibility is NOT one to be taken lightly.
From that moment, I took several hard looks at myself from time to time and knew my time in higher education was soon ending, or long moment of pause. Several months later, I decided to take a chance on a professional opportunity outside of the world of higher education and into the world of non-profit. Exposed to middle school and high school students across the socio-economic classes in Boston, I further witnessed and understood just how problematic Boston’s educational achievement and opportunity gap was. Or so I thought?!?
I truly believed that I had seen it “all” regarding educational disparities. Thus, I decided that after a few years working in higher education; about a year’s prior experience as a city caseworker, and reflecting on my lived experiences as a first-generation, Caribbean woman, college student who started working at the age of 13, and emerged from the low-working class; I was ready to earn my Educational Doctorate and impact educational policy. Thinking, “I am the students I am fighting for,” why not? I applied to one program, Harvard University’s Doctor of Educational Leadership program.
The whole story was mapped out in my mind. What an honor and responsibility to my community it was going to be. I am one of Boston’s own-bred in the community. I am a survivor of adolescent and adult sexual trauma. I didn’t think I would live past 16 years old-yet I am here thriving, having earned two degrees as is. I am an entrepreneur, podcaster, board member, and volunteer while working full-time, etc. I thought I had it in the bag! Even AFTER hearing that 11 years of full-time professional experience was an average. Who would deny my lived experiences? I am surely ready to earn an Ed. D/Ed.L.D and change educational policy in the American primary and secondary school system. While I believed, Harvard University did not!
Was I disappointed? Sure! I sincerely believed this was my opportunity to change the system for children of the future. I also believed this was my opportunity to earn credentials that would allow me to work for school districts and provide pathways for voices that are often worked on behalf of but are rarely in the room. But let me tell you, being rejected from Harvard University was a true blessing and awakening!
Below are the 3 reasons why:
1. I WAS NOT READY! Yes, I did have several years of work experience, but not directly in the primary and secondary school system. I did not have enough exposure to the daily cycles of successes and challenges that take place within our school’s walls. Ironically, with the work experience I did have, I wanted to earn a credential to become exactly who I desired to work against: ill-informed/exposed individuals in roles-making decisions that affect those performing the daily responsibilities. I was of what I like to think is the elite mindset. I sincerely that I had enough experience to influence policies that impact primary and secondary schools-given my work in higher education.
Now, while I do believe my time in higher education will continue to provide me with context in educational policy work, it is not the only perspective one should have. Such realization led me to also understand that there is truly a gap in communication and support of primary and secondary schools from higher education institutions, particularly for the historically marginalized population. Attending college is still very much a privilege, though education is a human right. However, the business models of higher education institutions are leading more colleges and universities to admit the highest performing students. Where are the “bottom” 80% of students going and is anyone from our under-resourced schools truly prepared for the rigor and independence of higher education and/or the workforce? Here I am with more questions than answers; realizing I NEED to spend MORE TIME in primary and secondary schools in order to better understand their needs.
2. I currently work for an urban school district! I truly believe everything happens for a reason! When one door closes, another door opens. Shortly after not being offered admittance to Harvard University’s Ed.L.D program, I received a job offer to work for an urban school district that I am committed to supporting in efforts to transition from one end of education, to another! Currently, I oversee about 30 elementary and middle schools within an urban school district. I work alongside school leaders for each distinctive school and educational superintendents to support in staffing efforts to address challenges with representation, assess teacher performance, and support efforts that target decreasing achievement and opportunity gaps for students. My role exposes me to the various policies, district departments/teams, and individuals in place within the urban school district that are conducive to achieving positive results, propose more challenges, or allow for progress to be stagnant. I am learning something new daily that impacts the success or setbacks of the students, teachers, and leaders I work on behalf of as the success of the schools I work with are impacted by my responsibilities and execution on a micro and macro scale.
3. Affirmation that meaning well, does not always mean you do well. Rejections of any form cause one to reflect on what happened to lead to the rejection. Questions like: 1. What went well? 2. What could I have done differently? 3. Was this about timing, skill, or interest, etc.? are all valid to ponder upon. In this case, a doctoral rejection led me to understand the depths of how one’s heart being in the right place is not enough. Speaking for myself, while my heart is in the right place for school, district, and policy leadership work; tangible work experience speaks volumes when real lives are at stake. Too many of us have witnessed people with good intentions make costly mistakes on behalf of the lives of OTHERS! You might even be one of those people! As I reflected on my intentions, I had to take a bite of humble pie and realized “I did not know what I did not know, until I learned differently.” What if I was admitted into the Ed.L.D program and was appointed a leadership role in policy upon completion solely because of the prestige of my degree? Without the actual related work experience, familiarity with the language, and more depth to my understanding of systemic school structure; how would I be able to identify, support, and challenge the changes the people are requesting that I act on? Too often ill-prepared people are in leadership roles without a clue of what to do and how to lead a group of people doing the work. I do not and will not be one of those people. My commitment to providing pathways for young people to rise to their fullest potential, develop their own dreams, and believe in their purpose without institutionalized racism controlling their fate depends on my ability to be patient, learn, and truly work hard on their behalf!
I am super grateful to my influential, supportive, and encouraging team who provided me with the tools needed to submit a solid application for a doctoral program. However, I am even more grateful to the institution that forced me to dig even deeper into the work being done on local, state, and national levels that effect educational inequities. In life, growth takes place when you asses the lessons learned from experiences and apply them in next lived chapters. Will I apply to the Ed.L.D program again in the future? Possibly. As I am currently transitioning into my current district position, further investing and building out my company, continuously pouring into my community, and positioning myself to gather more exposure to various moments that pour into MY OWN cup; I am truly not sure.
To those of you who have experienced rejections in educational and employment opportunities, I know it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Every rejection feels like a jab at your worth, pride, and confidence. The disappointment is real. However, believe that what is meant for you will come. The search for somethings months in can be painful and bruising to your core. Believe however, you are somebody and you are enough. “The educational and employment is not what it used to be” I am told and have read. Regardless of what that means, every single day you wake up is another opportunity to learn more about who you are and the true impact you want to make in the world.
Go out there and be great! I am and always will be rooting for YOU!
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