Johnson Scholar and University of Florida grad Jaciah Rashid shares this introspective on her college journey, the road to get there, and what it means to be a first-gen college student
This article was written by Johnson Scholar and University of Florida graduate Jaciah Rashid. It is shared here with permission.
Ever since I was a child, I dreamed of changing the world. I quickly realized that obtaining a higher education was the key to unlocking my dreams, so I set my sights on college with only a vague understanding of what a difficult undertaking it would be. There was only one major obstacle standing before me: finances.
I knew that the only way I would be able to afford a higher education was through scholarships. Thus, when high school commenced, I began on a horse race to try and acquire the funds necessary to finance my education. After many sleepless nights studying the night away, I was finally able to get the scholarships I needed to go to college, among which included Take Stock in Children/Johnson Scholars (TSIC/JS) and Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship (MFOS). I also graduated as valedictorian of my high school as collateral.
Soon after came the treacherous journey of traversing college as a first-generation college student. As soon as I stepped foot on campus, I was bombarded with collegiate buzzwords that I had never heard of, including “fraternities,” “certificates,” “tracks,” and more. At orientation, I asked the presenter if it was bad not to be “pre-med” in hopes of figuring out what this oft-heard term meant, to which I received blank stares from no less than one hundred of my peers in the room.
I could not afford the fee to bring my parents along with me. I was alone and so utterly confused. However, from then on, step by step, day by day, I conquered the uphill battle of making sense of the otherwise untrekked territory that was college. I learned about research, double majors, graduating with honors, and more. Now, here I stand at the end of my journey, on top of the mountain that is college, looking back at my journey and the trials and tribulations that I triumphed.
I am honored to be a first-generation success story, adding my tale to a garment weaved by an ever-growing community of strong individuals who beat the odds. Within my undergraduate studies, I created a computational brain cancer model to bolster the success rate of therapies undergoing clinical trials, and I published my paper with the National Institute of Health. I was able to touch lives through a variety of volunteer work, serving as a teacher, a mentor, and a conversation partner to underprivileged elementary school students, incoming freshmen, and international students struggling to adapt to American culture respectively.
I also blossomed from a meek, anxious 18-year-old into a confident, independent young adult with a deep understanding of who I am and what I stand for. All of my experiences culminated into a successful graduation: this past May, I graduated from the University of Florida’s Honors Program with a B.S. in Biochemistry and a B.S. in Computer Science. I also graduated from the University Research Scholars Program (URSP), an opportunity offered only to the top 5% of students. I now work as a full-time software engineer in the defense industry and hope to continue my education as a part-time graduate student in the near future.
I could not have completed this journey on my own. I am forever grateful for the friends, family members, and mentors that served as an emotional crutch for me throughout the ups and downs of college. I am also indebted to scholarship organizations like TSIC/JS and MFOS that enabled me to embark on this journey to begin with. Without the support of others, I would not have been able to succeed in college.
Still, it is difficult to process how far I have come. I can recall a childhood of hiding behind the family couch, eating spoonfuls of sugar to stave off the hunger that came with chronic food insecurity at home. Now, with a newfound sense of financial stability, I have the power to provide for myself as well as those in need. As I gain my foothold at my new job, I hope to enable another dreamer, just like me, to see their aspirations come to fruition.
Before I ever realized, I find myself at a checkpoint in life. The launch of my engineering career marks my departure from the world of helplessness that marked my childhood toward a glowing future I can look forward to, and I have never been so content. As I ponder the past, I remember a little girl who cared deeply and dreamed big, and although I can never know for sure, it brings me great joy to envision that a younger me would have been proud to know what she will grow up to be.