My Story: I Failed and I Am Here
By Ndeye Aminata Ndiaye
The first time I visited UMD in 2017, I was pregnant, very pregnant. As I was walking toward Knight Hall before applying to the Journalism Master’s program, I kept asking myself, "What am I doing here? Do I belong here?" At the same time, the little voice inside told me to go and talk to the school's Graduate Admissions Office. So I did. I was able to meet with Rafael Lorente, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and the Director of the Master's Program. I know this sounds strange, but I was afraid I would be told that I cannot attend the school because of my pregnancy. I know times have changed-- still, I knew I would not be the average graduate student.
Two weeks after my meeting with Rafael, I got the acceptance letter from the University-- something I wasn’t expecting. After I got down from the euphoria, reality hit me. I am going to become a mom and a student. How am I going to juggle both tasks with the same determination? And still work full-time? I wasn’t sure how it would all fall into place. Even now, managing parenthood, work and school poses all kinds of challenges.
All of this seems surreal and far removed from where I’ve been. As the second of three girls, I grew up in Senegal, West Africa. Since I could sing my ABCs, I knew I wanted to become a journalist. Living in Africa, I was more exposed to news from around the region and the world, and most of the reporters bringing the news were men. And I couldn’t always relate to the stories. I thought I had something to offer the world of journalism and at the least improve women’s representation in the field. Also, I always wanted to be able to talk about what’s going on in other places, right from the source. My parents hoped, I think, that this was just a phase, and that it would eventually pass. They preferred I study law like my grandfather and uncle--or chemistry. I wanted to add a journalist to the mix.
After I graduating high school, I took a small detour and earned computer science degree in Senegal before I had the courage to study journalism in the U.S. Because my father was already an American citizen, it made study here possible. I was able to live with my father and got a job at a grocery store in College Park. I still work there full-time, as a matter of fact. In between a 40+ hour work week, I put myself through English classes to brush up on my language skills. As an immigrant, coming to the U.S. was (and is) a big deal. I came from a family of big dreamers and fervent supporters of education, so failure was not an option.
In 2015, I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), and wanted to keep going. Two months after having my baby in 2017, I started the Master’s program here in the fall term. The program required a 4-course load, and so I did that. Two weeks into the semester, Rafael was concerned that full-time work, parenthood and school were just too much for me--and he expressed as much. He left it up to me to decide what to do --before add/drop period was over. I made the choice to drop every class.
In my mind, I failed to juggle parenthood and graduate work. I was ashamed and lost --and I said that to my mentor, Rafael. I thought I had reached the end of my academic journey once and for all. As I would stroll through campus and see graduate students, or any UMD students for that matter, they were a reminder of my disappointment. I went into a deep depression for a good long time. And yet, there was a part of me that was relieved at letting go. Sometimes, we just aren’t ready hear that we are doing too much.
One day, as I was holding my baby Anastasia in my arms and crying over my situation, I got an email from my program, saying that I can still register for the upcoming term (spring 2018). All was not lost. But if I was honest with myself, I wasn’t really ready to return quite yet. I waited until this fall to make my comeback--with a 2-course load blessed by Rafael, still working full-time and raising a child.
Which brings me to the present moment, Fall 2018 --my fresh start and my second chance at completing my master’s degree. These days, I still find myself wondering if, indeed, I will make it. So far so good. I also took the extra step of going to the Counseling Center--trying to take better take care of myself. If can’t nurture my own self, then everything falls apart. The counselor praised my courage and told me not to carry my past experiences as a burden on my back. And also not to let the past predict my future.
True as that may be, I still struggle with raising Anastasia, being a good mother and providing for our future. I know that I will fall sometimes, but I now know that I have good people in my program, like Rafael, and others in the Counseling Center to help me manage my stress and life/work balance. And to accompany me on this academic (and life) adventure.
More information about Amina Ndiaye can be found here.
(Photo Credit: Amina Ndiaye)