Graduate, then change the world

by Jasmine Mungo

Opinion Contributor

Senior year is turning out to be everything I hoped it would be. I was able to finish most of my courses early, compete as a Division I athlete, and enroll in the Canisius College Mental Health and Counseling Graduate Program.  The road here wasn’t easy. After attending a high school where emphasis was placed on sports, I felt ill-prepared for college when I first got to campus. I also often felt very different from the rest of the students here. Moving from the D.C. Metropolitan area to Buffalo for college was a major culture change. The racial demographics at Canisius are much different than what I was used to back home. In roughly 75 percent of my college courses, I was the only African- American person in the room.

But I was determined to stick it out. I made sure to take advantage of my athletic scholarship to finish my degree. Meeting the requirements of being a college athlete, all while continuing to excel in the classroom has been a daunting task, but one that has guided my next steps after graduation.   

During my time here I often wondered, “Why me?” Why was I able to make it to Canisius College, a prestigious private institution, when many of my smart, capable peers weren’t afforded the same options? The answer for me was teachers, influential people like my high school math teacher Ms. Habersham, who spent hours of her time tutoring me, in a subject I thought was nearly impossible.  Despite a lack of resources at my school, she boosted my confidence when I felt discouraged and made me feel like I could succeed despite the odds I faced.

My teachers asked tough questions, rejected easy conclusions, and pushed me to push myself. Why not follow in their path-changing footsteps?

Teaching is definitely hard work. But when I think about what I’ve loved about life on campus and the life I hope to chart beyond it, I can’t help but think teaching might be exactly what I’m looking for: a community to care about, relationships that matter, and an opportunity for incredible impact.

I know the struggles I faced when I got to college are the same ones kids who grow up in low-income communities all over the country grapple with. Access to a quality education is not guaranteed to every student. We’ve got to change this.

Because when we help kids change the way they think about their own capabilities and futures, we create classrooms full of students who are dreaming big. When we equip them with the skills and tools to thrive in and out of the classroom, we cultivate kids whose potential is boundless. They’ll be the scientists, politicians, writers, artists, doctors, attorneys who shape the world we are all going to share. It won’t happen overnight. It will take sustained, thoughtful effort. I want to be a part of it.

For me, that will begin with Teach For America – where I’ll leverage a national network to make a local impact. If I love teaching as much as I think I might, I’ll keep at it. Or maybe I’ll become a principal, or launch a startup to address some of the challenges I see in my classroom first-hand. Wherever I go, I know that as I empower my students to break the cycle, I’ll become part of a better one – a network of activists and advocates who have seen or experienced injustice first hand, have been a part of chipping away at it, and won’t rest until it’s gone.

I can’t wait for school to start!

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