That’s the distance between my childhood home and Howard University’s campus. 365 miles. In my teenage mind, that wasn’t far at all. The drive would only take about seven hours. It could be done in part of a day and everything I needed was packed into my mother’s SUV. It was just 365 miles. Before arriving on Howard’s campus to move into my freshman dorm, I had no idea what I was in for. I figured I’d drive up, meet my roommate, check out my class schedule and…wait for classes to start? I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little bit out of touch. But there was something that no one would stop talking about. Apparently, there was a whole week designed just to help the freshmen adjust to being on campus. Freshman week! As a studious, out of state, merit scholar, I figured a week of social events and weekend parties would do little for me. I’d walk seamlessly into my new life as a college student, ace all of my classes, get my degree and take over the world…like I said, out of touch. What I didn’t know is that Howard is a whole new world. Perhaps the farthest thing from my familiar, small town Connecticut home. It didn’t set in until my mother and I had emptied the SUV and she sat in the driver’s seat, engine running, ready to send me off. That was it. It was about to be just me in a brand new city, at a brand new school, starting my brand new life.
She rolled down the windows, looked me squarely in my eyes and said, “remember who you are.” And drove off.
That was it and I was stunned. As I watched her start the 365 mile drive back to Connecticut, sudden fear set in. I was all alone and all she could say was “remember who you are”?
I have started several new lives since graduating from Howard and, much to my surprise, that advice has stuck with me through more than a decade of major changes. Remember who you are. Now, almost 3,000 miles away from my hometown, there’s no more fear. No more looking longingly at SUVs driving away. Just the lessons I’ve collected over the years. I’m sure almost every HBCU graduate can say their experience is a significant part of who they are. I’m proud to say Howard University is a significant part of mine.