The Power of A Support System: What It’s Done For Me

By: Troy Pittman (She/her/hers), Temple University

I left high school in 2018 believing that the world was mine and that whatever I asked of it, the universe would grant. I was so focused on my ideal college that I’d rehearse majorette dances I planned to perform at my shiny HBCU with pristine grass beneath my feet. I sharpened pencils I planned to use for endless drafts of television scripts waiting to launch. This optimism came from none other than my amazing parents. For some context to my story, my parents met and graduated from Temple University. They are Temple Made. My older brother Myles graduated from Temple University after completing the same dual enrollment program I did. Needless to say, my parents did their thing with sacrifice and side hustling to put us through college (Though, I earned myself a few scholarships and internships.).

But more importantly, the college experience revealed to me that life has an interesting way of humbling even the best of us. My journey didn’t start out the way I expected. I attended the Community College of Philadelphia after weeks of kicking and screaming at my parents and the administration office. I couldn’t wrap my head around attending a community college after fantasizing about university life. Most of my graduating class walked around gloating about their 4-year school acceptance letters and meal plans. Initially, I was devastated. I thought that I’d have to live vicariously through them hearing how great the parties and dorm life were. Then, spring semester in 2019 came around, and nearly 75% of them couldn’t afford to pay another semester’s worth of tuition. I finally accepted that $3,000 a semester at CCP sounded much better than $20,000-$40,000 somewhere else.

After two years of great professors, and an even better curriculum, I’m forever grateful I took the route that I was once so hesitant to take. I am fortunate enough to say that I am entering my senior year of college with zero debt, zero loans, and no bad taste in my mouth. But that wasn’t the reality for some of my closest friends, and wouldn’t have been my reality without my family’s sleepless nights. Shared themes of challenges my peers and I faced were high tuition rates, food insecurity, and limited financial aid. The world, along with its economy and values has changed so much over the last few years. Yes, most of my friends were in school, but the degrees my peers were pursuing didn’t seem promising. They were working multiple jobs, studying on empty stomachs for an education system that did not provide basic resources for today’s average student.

Hours of screen time in addition to viewing other people’s exaggerated lifestyles made us ask the question: “Well…what’s next for me?” I fell into that category a handful of times working in food service, being a camp counselor, security guard, dance instructor, personal shopper, babysitter… you get the idea.

A few months before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the world, my entrepreneurial venture began. I was walking to the train after my shift at Honeygrow when a girl stopped me, begging to know who styled my hair. Up until that day I hadn’t noticed how many times I was stopped and asked about my hair by people on the street. Quite coincidentally, my supervisor had just granted me the biggest raise of all time: an extra 15 cents to my hourly rate of $10, despite being one of their best employees for almost a year. At this point in my life I felt lost. CCP’s tuition notices were piling up in my emails and taking 5 classes made getting another job nearly a psychotic thought. I had to make a decision fast! My two weeks’ notice was placed on their desk, my Temple acceptance letter had arrived in my mailbox, and my ‘Done By T’ hairstyling business was born.

Common questions I’m asked when discussing my ambition and my optimistic attitude are, “What makes you work so hard?” or, “Why are you doing this in the first place?” This answer has evolved as I’ve gotten older and more experienced, but the part of my answer that’s never changed is, “because of my family structure.” I have a responsibility to ensure that every generation progresses with the continuation of the family name. I have a responsibility to position myself to help others, the way I’ve been carefully and intentionally helped. I work so hard because my dreams have only gotten bigger as I grow more mature. Being granted an opportunity to write this piece about my college experience is evidence that I am on my way.

I want to stress the importance of a support system in the lives of college students. Support systems go beyond parent-child relationships. The ideology of “it takes a village” has never been more clear to me. School counselors, nurses, mentors, family, etc are the sole reason for my progression. Rather it is books given to me, recommendation letters, one-on-one discussion about my future — I’ve been poured into. I won’t and can’t let those hours go to waste by me not pursuing my dreams. As I reflect on these last few years, I’ve seen the void my peers feel for not having a great support system. Not everyone’s transition from teenager to young adulthood is smooth.

Throughout my various side hustles, all-nighters, and crash courses I’ve been able to recognize what I take for granted as well. For example, having parents that do whatever it takes for me to stay in school. Or having access to food and water so I’m able to focus in class. Even living in a safe environment with fast internet to take advantage of Temple’s curriculum. It’s something I cherish and something I believe every college student should have.

I am learning to balance self-celebration and self-evaluation during this college experience. There is so much pressure coming from endless directions. It’s what all of us college students battle. I don’t always acknowledge my accomplishments the way I probably should. I don’t always recognize when I am in need of a break from working so hard. But one thing I’ve ingrained in my everyday speech is that my confidence and worth are unwavering. On days I lack motivation, I look at the checkmarks next to my list of goals. On days I feel lost, I imagine the many ways my parents found their way. Needless to say, I am on a mission. It doesn’t matter the speed or which destination I check off first.

I’ve built a multi-purpose studio in my basement to produce media content, style my clients, and provide a space for my friends’ business ventures as well. With this studio, I plan to make the most out of my home in Philadelphia. Students who go to school in Philadelphia often graduate and leave with no intention of coming back. I’ve repeated these same words during my first few semesters. But there is a lot of work to be done in this beautiful city. The city that made me Temple Proud. The city where my family is creating its legacy.

I got pretty lucky with my college experience now that I think about it. But I know that there is much work to do to make this experience easier for others. I want those who read this to remember that they have a story too. It doesn’t have to be the prettiest or the most straight forward. And the story only stops when you stop telling it…so never stop and never underestimate the magic of a little support.

Troy Pittman is a Media Business & Entrepreneurship student at Temple University’s Klein School of Media & Communication. She is passionate about the entertainment industry as it pertains to television and radio broadcast. She says, “You’ll be seeing this face in the media someday.”