Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My educational journey: What drives me

by Senior Airman Duquann Hinton

9/10/2013 - TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." -Michael Jordan

"The best revenge is massive success." -Frank Sinatra

"Believe you can and you're halfway there." -Theodore Roosevelt

"There are no traffic jams along the extra mile." -Roger Staubach

"When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it." -Henry Ford

A little over a decade ago, I officially dropped out of high school; however, I became disengaged well before then. In fact, I stopped regular attendance in school after my first year in junior high school. I grew to believe that the streets were the only education I needed and would have preferred standing on the corner getting intoxicated to studying for a mid-term. I was in a situation with no windows, a situation with no alternative views that I was willing to endorse ... and I was having fun. I was a misfit amongst a group of misfits and we became family; brothers and sisters in a struggle in which (un)silent resistance was the median through which we affirmed and made known our collective voice; through the joys, understandings, and pleasures of friendship and the shared revolt against our parents and society as a whole.

My educational motivation began with a minute spark, a desire to change my life after realizing that my lifestyle, at that time, was creating a pattern that would eventuate in my demise. I decided that I wanted to live -- that I wanted to ensure that my future children, if I decided to have some, would not have to inherit artifacts of my bad decisions. Initially, I wanted to join the military. Although I did not know anyone in any of the branches, I had a general sense of what the military was. There was something about the structure, culture and traditions of the military that spoke to my soul. However, my mother and the rest of my family were strongly against such an idea. Therefore, guided by my mother and an educational counselor, I acquired a General Education Diploma and enrolled into college. After getting accepted into the Forensic Psychology bachelor's degree program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, I began my first day of college just to realize that things were moving a bit too fast in the classroom. My years out of school had finally caught up with me. The professors used words that I was not familiar with and it seemed as if I was the only student who was not "getting it." My initial decision was to go home and never come back because college was too hard. However, I was fortunate enough to have been a part of the Percy Ellis Sutton Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) program. SEEK is an initiative whose purpose is to provide comprehensive academic support to assist capable students who otherwise might not be able to attend college due to their educational and financial circumstances.

During their first year of College, all SEEK students are mandated to attend a couple of hours of tutoring every week. I can recall spending hours in the tutoring lab daily in efforts to get ahold of the various concepts that were explored in each class with my favorite tutor Paul, who was my preferred tutor because he made incessant efforts to stretch his students beyond their intellectual comfort zones. My family and friends also made the task of adjusting to college easier for me. At this point in time, I had developed a very strong, close relationship with my mother. Apart from financially backing me, she supported every academic decision I made and even helped me make a few. My mother would come to every ceremony, induction and speaking engagement that I had. I had an intelligent, beautiful and sweet girlfriend (my first real one), Sutana Riley, who attended York College. I can recall sitting up late hours with Sutana at her mother's house, taking turns typing out papers of mine that I had written by hand because I typed too slow. She would also help me with my history homework. I would eventually marry Sutana. To date, we have been married a little over three years. During midterms and finals, my mother, girlfriend and older sister would listen to me read all of my papers. Oftentimes, my sister would take my writings outside with her to read to her friends.

At this point, I was doing exceptionally well. However, to a certain extent I still did not feel as if I "belonged" in an academic community. After years in the street, I was accustomed to interacting with other people in a particular manner. For example, someone who is too friendly or open can easily become a victim in the street. To survive, one had to be tough, laugh and smile little, and be as unapproachable as possible. This coping mechanism transferred over to my early undergraduate career. Therefore, my interactions with faculty and other students were minimal at best. Again, this is where SEEK came in to the rescue. In the John Jay SEEK department, every student gets a counselor whom they are supposed to meet with regularly. Of course I was wary about doing this; however, my counselor, Dr. Erica King-Toler, was determined that I follow this requirement. In fact, she would literally chase me down in the hallways, asking me why I had neglected to come by her office. I would always come up with an excuse until the day that I ran out of excuses and she guided me to her office to talk. In many ways, those talks in her office humanized the college experience for me, dismantling many of the fantasies, myths and falsities that I held about academia in general, and what an academic looked like (socially, physically and psychologically) in particular.

With the help of Paul, SEEK and my family, in a few years' time, I transformed from an uncertain college student who was well under the curve into one of John Jay College's finest. In fact, by the end of my third year, I was 21 and a Ronald E. McNair Scholar, a Chi Alpha Epsilon member, and I had been on the Dean's List for two consecutive years. I had (and still have) a number of mentors whose guidance and advice was/is invaluable (I love you all--Dr. Kinshasa, Dr. Toler, Dr. Alford, Dr. Lee, Dr. Adams ...). I had received an assortment of other honors, awards and scholarships. I had addressed audiences of youth at numerous venues, speaking to the power, vitality and viability of gaining an education, sharing my "story" and map to college. In addition, I had presented original research at a number of academic conferences. I had grown into a devoted, emerging scholar. In fact, I applied to and was accepted into a couple of doctoral programs. Ultimately, I decided to attend the Social Personality Psychology program at the Graduate Center, CUNY and I remained there for the next two and a half years.

During my first two years in this doctoral program, I went on about my academic career with the same dedication and tenacity that I had grown to implement during my time at John Jay College. However, guided largely by Audre Lorde, a feminist writer who once wrote "if I didn't define myself for myself I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive," I began to evaluate my life and realized that I was unhappy and unfulfilled. My mentors all had fantasies for me to become an academic and I shared (and still do) their dreams in this respect. However, we diverged in terms of the contexts in which I would actualize this sort of accomplishment. I wanted to be a part of the military and my mentors wanted me to remain a civilian. Up to this point, I was accomplishing all of the achievements that they wanted for me to the exclusion of one of my strong desires. After a while, however, I ultimately decided to pursue my dream of using my talents in service to my country and have not looked back since.

Upon my arrival here at Tinker AFB, after basic military training and technical school, I immediately began to garner all of the information that I needed to go back to school. With the help of my supervision and the education center, I completed my CDCs in half of the allotted time, completed the requirements for my CCAF and completed a master's degree in Human Relations at the University of Oklahoma with a 4.0 GPA. I have done all of these things during the two and a half years that I have been in the Air Force. Part of what drives me to push so hard at such a rapid speed is that I am always thinking about where I would have been had I joined the military sooner. However, I have no regrets. I have made countless mistakes. I have said the wrong things, been in the wrong places, and done the wrong things at the wrong times. I have not always received every award or scholarship that I have competed for. I have received a few unsatisfactory grades. I would not change anything, though. My life experiences, the good and the bad, have all come together to make me who I am today. Furthermore, it is these life experiences that energize me.

It is always tough and anxiety-provoking for me to describe what it is that drives me to pursue education with the tenacity and drive that I employ. Considering the whimsical unpredictability of life, with all of its twists and turns, at times, it is hard to step back and reflect about what it is that compels me. It is imperative, however, for me to do so because it forces me to remember my roots and my initial purposes; all of which are at once humbling and pride-invoking.

No comments: