Two teachers’ tough love made dreaming possible


To compete for this year’s 13 scholarships, graduating seniors of African or African American descent were asked to submit essays based on the theme “Education and Graduation: It’s a Family Affair.” Here are some of the winning submissions.

Probably the way to begin is to define a few key words.

The first word is “graduate.” As opposed to using a dictionary definition, I’d like to give my own personal definition regarding what this word directly and indirectly means to me.

The word “graduation” implies directed movement, such as to graduate from middle school to high school. However, in a larger sense the word means accomplishment or the personal attainment of a desired or sought-after goal.

The second word is “family.’ Literally, a family consists of the people who raised you — the people to whom you are related. But on another level, “family” means the people who care about you, are there for [you]. They show up, and often, correct you — even when you don’t like it.

With this in mind, I would like to share with you my journey through “education and graduation”: It’s a family affair. I’d like to tell you about the two people who have played a major role in my life. But first, I need to tell you my story.

My family moved to Minnesota when I was about two years old, and we were one of the first Black families to live in my community. Needless to say, we felt alienated, so being one of the only Black kids from third through sixth grade, I have no problem bowing down to authority.

Following the group meant friends, and I was in no position to pass up friendship, even when it turned out to the the wrong kind. I spent so much time bowing down that I didn’t realize until my friends and I were arrested [that] I had hit rock bottom.

When our town started to become more integrated, I found out the hard [way] that I was too “White” — which really meant “articulate” — to hang with the ghetto Black group; yet, I was too poor and Black to hang with the preppy White click.

Thus, I was on my own. I began disrespecting my family, friends, teachers, elders, even regular people I met on the street. I didn’t realize until my teachers threatened to hold me back in school that during this entire ordeal, I had been disrespecting myself.

This is where the “family” comes into play, and at just the right time.

Consequently, two members of my “family” I would like to introduce you to are Joe and Pam Wycoff. Those who know these two people might say that this is an unusual choice for me to make; they are much older than I, come from a different socio-economic background, and both are teachers.

They are my speech coaches at Apple Valley High School, [and have been] for the past four years. I have competed in forensics, and these two people have been the driving force behind my competitive development and my personal growth. They picked me up when I was down, and they brought me down to earth when I was too far up.

They have been there for both me and my family. They have always treated us with respect and dignity, and through “tough-love” encouragement, they have made dreaming a possibility.

They have taught me how to win, how to lose, how to show humility, how to walk with pride, grace and laughter. They helped me “graduate” from being a negative Black stereotype to a young Black woman dreaming of becoming a Black leader.

Not only are these two people members of my “family,” but they are also both White. In a world of distrust and stereotypes, the Wyckoffs and I have formed a colorless bond.

In conclusion, I now plan to be a teacher so that I can find, reach out to and impact another “Jamaka” — someone out there in all the chaos of a changing world that often doesn’t make sense. Following the example of Mr. and Mrs. Wycoff, I hope to unite all the “families” across Black America and help them to “graduate” from the world of rap, gangs and money into the world Martin Luther King died for, one of equality, education and freedom.