A Dream Come True
Sharonda Adams, ’21, College of Arts & Sciences
If you had told me eight years ago that I’d be a student at a prestigious university, I’d have asked you one question: “What’s a university?”
Growing up in poverty, I did not have the resources to learn about what higher education truly was. I didn’t dream of attending any university, let alone a top one. I was forced to live in the present, worrying about more pressing matters like where my next meal would come from. Approaching my senior year, I found myself homeless and in need of help. Fortunately, members of my community rushed to my aid and I suddenly found myself surrounded by the warm and supportive family that I had always dreamed of. My high school AP Biology teacher and my Echo Foundation mentor both opened up their homes to me, giving me not one, but two families that pushed me to do my best while caring for me like one of their own children.
Like many of my classmates at Vanderbilt, I found that getting into Vanderbilt was nothing short of a dream come true. I had been interested in Vanderbilt ever since I received a pamphlet highlighting the school’s emphasis on diverse academics, community, and Nashville nightlife. I was fortunate enough to visit Vanderbilt on a crowdsourced trip, and I fell in love with the campus and Nashville.
After committing to Vanderbilt, I knew that it was important to shape this school into my new home to make the hardships that I endured in high school feel like they weren’t in vain. The struggles that I had lived through in the years leading up to receiving my acceptance taught me many lessons, all of which I was ready and even excited to apply to my new life in Nashville. I learned how to persevere and maintain a positive outlook even through hard times and rejections at Vanderbilt. I also learned that giving love is an easy way to generate happiness in both myself and others. I knew going into my first year that I wanted not only to live in an environment as loving and supportive as what I now have at home but also to build my Vanderbilt family by connecting with people on a personal level. I made this one of my priorities because I knew all too well how lonely life could be without a familial group.
In my first few weeks at Vanderbilt, I was floored by all the amazing people I met. Our campus is much more diverse than my small North Carolina hometown, and hearing the unique stories of my peers was incredibly eye-opening. The Commons proved to be a blessing for meeting new people. Each day on Commons brought new people, and with each person came the opportunity for me to make a new connection with someone I may have never otherwise gotten to know. Student organizations like the Black Student Association and MyCommons Life also made it easy to feel at home and gave me the opportunity to meet people who exemplified the true spirit of a Commodore. During Alternative Winter Break and Alternative Spring Break, I grew closer with other students through our shared commitment to service. On each day of the Alternative Breaks, one or two people would share their life story, bringing all of us even closer together.
Living in the heart of Nashville also added to my pursuit of building strong connections during my freshman year. Through restaurant outings (way too many trips to Chili’s) and endless concerts, I was able to bond with my friends in a fun way while simultaneously breaking through the “Vandy Bubble.” Serving on the Gillette House Advisory Council was another way that I found family on campus. I quickly bonded with numerous people in my house, some residents eventually becoming my closest friends. I spent many late nights in the “Gilleminar” room watching movies and talking about all the topics under the sun with the amazing people in my house.
This year was truly a testament to how important it is to build strong relationships with others while experiencing life in a new environment. Throughout the year, I faced many challenges that made me question myself and how I got here. More recently, I’ve found myself struggling to reconcile the reality of my past and the family that I was born into with my new life and the family that took me in and made me one of their own. One significant principle that I held onto was that a family isn’t determined by blood, but by the community and values that you share. Family is whoever you love and open yourself up to. This year, Vanderbilt added to my new family by connecting me with wonderful, thoughtful people who have helped make my first year of college the best year of my life thus far.