“Education must not simply teach work, it must teach life,” W.E.B. Du Bois.
By Frederick Shegog, undergraduate student, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, Delaware County Community College has been the village that turned this man into a graduate.
I entered the institution after years of battling mental health and substance use disorder. I am thankful to say that I am a person in recovery who will celebrate five years of sobriety in June. Delaware County Community College embraced my story, and education became the passport to a new life. After testing at the remedial levels for my first set of classes, I was placed in English 025. I was extremely disappointed and felt that I was unworthy of college. The instructor gave us the assignment to write a paper on identity and said that furthermore, grading would be based on content rather than grammar. After submitting my paper, my professor told me it was full of life. Six months later, that paper was published as an Op-ed Piece in The Philadelphia Inquirer. English 025 taught me to value every class and every assignment I am ever given.
As time went on, my college continued to support me, and the hard work bore spectacular fruit. I entered college in search of life and no real idea of what the future may hold. I write this today as a published writer, Founder/CEO of an LLC motivational speaking company, multi-scholarship winner, national scholar, and a member of the All-Pennsylvania Academic Team. As a result of being selected to the PA Academic team, I entered West Chester University on a full-tuition scholarship. I achieved these awards and gifts with the help of a community of people from all walks of life behind the scenes.
While my curriculum vitae has grown and blessings continue to overflow, what about the students who are not so fortunate?
When COVID-19 shut down the country, I found myself crying at night. Many educators and students asked me why I was so sad. When visiting and speaking at multiple schools, I explained how alarmed I was to learn the ugly truth of education. While sitting in my home with beautiful amenities, reading updated scholarship, and taking elderberry for immune system building, students are starving.
Many institutions do not have adequate funding to educate, properly nourish, or provide essential support outside the classroom. In conversations with many educators, the common theme is to do more with less; as my late grandfather would say, “Freddy, I have to rob Peter to pay Paul.” The system fails our youth, and institutional hoarding of resources has left many educators begging for help.
I had the privilege and honor of being a panelist at a national conference two years ago. The panel’s theme was a research paper written by the president of The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab titled, “Teaching the students we have versus the students we want.” They delivered a diverse panel who shared experiences from various backgrounds concerning personal journeys in education. Each of us was at different levels of education and from all parts of the country. The educators asked in-depth questions, which allowed for a spirited discussion of solutions. Later that evening, I was invited to a higher education administrators’ social gathering with people from around the country. Typically, students are not allowed to attend this event; however, having an LLC where I keynote national conferences granted me admission.
I walked around–networking and delivering my elevator speech, passing out business cards. Quickly, I realized there was an academic jargon that I could not speak. Academics throw around words like retention or feeder institution and expect that everyone in the room will know what they mean. The next conversation completely changed my ideology in education forever.
I delivered my elevator speech to a higher education administrator who arrogantly and pompously said, “Sir, what are you doing keynoting national conferences, and you have not gotten your Ph.D. yet? You must pay your dues before being granted that type of platform.”
My next statement was from the heart and to show I was worthy to be here. I emphatically and wholeheartedly wanted to use this moment to stand my ground for equality in higher education. I felt like I was staring the old guard in the face, but I was ready for this moment. I returned with, “Have you eaten out of a dumpster?”
She was shaken to her core and looked at me with the most giant set of eyes I have ever seen! Quickly she stated, “Why, of course not!”
I replied, “Well, I guess we both have not paid our dues! I share my story on mental health and substance abuse. My story, talent, and education journey relate to the students, attracting speaking engagements to help educators enhance retention rates.” I immediately spoke with the professors I was with, and they told me that I deserve to be here and focus on my goals. I specifically remember them throwing their hands to wave off the comment as if it is not anything new. That immediately reminded me of my journey and why I must use my platform to advocate for critical student resources. I will go to my grave believing this moment seasoned me on the ugliness of higher education. I left hungry to fight and not defeated, which was also a sign of my growth in recovery.
I woke up the next morning realizing I had much work to do in education. Growing up, I drank the Kool-Aid labeled, “Kids who go to Ivy League schools are smarter than you.” I believed that certain positions, titles, and degrees spoke about your intelligence level. After all I have accomplished–speaking at schools and looking at the data–that could not be further from the truth. The ugly truth is education is facing a crisis of power-mapping while allocating funds for essential resources.
Everyone always asks, “Freddy, how are you able to be a student and travel the country speaking at colleges?” The answer is SUPPORT! In one of my first national speaking engagements, I was confused about writing the contract language. I immediately contacted Dr. Goldrick-Rab and she taught me how. Before meeting her, Dr. Kendrick Mickens of Delaware County Community College mentored me on presenting workshops at conferences. That workshop turned into my first paid speaking event. I could write a book on how many people in education took precious time out of their day to share resources. They went out of their way to share networks, conferences, and contacts in the media in hopes of enhancing my life. I am forever grateful for their support, and without them, I would not be here.
My overarching goal of this blog is to ask for more help. I am asking that the system look at my journey and learn how to help the next student. I am not the only student with a story, talent, and dreams. I am not the only student working hard in hopes of changing their family’s fortune forever. Students are single parents, caring for others, and dealing with extraordinary situations that take unparalleled efforts to persevere. What is taking so long for the education system and policymakers to wake up and allocate resources appropriately to help these students? If we can cash their checks for tuition, why can we not help with every tool possible? Why do we not have a free lunch program? Why are health departments at campuses struggling with funding but yet the football programs are cash cows? Why does Benjamin Franklin’s “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are,” continue to ring true?
These questions and many others allow for a system to prey on the less fortunate. Allow this blog to be the start of new ideas and solutions. In combination with The Hope Center, Believe in Students, and the #RealCollege movement, allow us to partner as one to better the next generation. Please understand these two movements are the foundations of solving these many problems. However, much more help is needed.
Simon Sinex said, “Leadership is not about the next election; it’s about the next generation.”
My leadership is a lifestyle that I must walk not only in my classroom production, but also in the world. The mentors I stated above taught me, “To whom much is given, much is required,” Luke 12:48. I decided that college would not just change my bank account; it must change my outlook on life. Those life changes include helping to build other kingdoms besides my own. Have we forgotten that the greatest gift of knowledge is sharing it? Wake up, America, and realize we must do better and help #RealCollege students because they have paid long enough!
Frederick Shegog is the Founder/CEO The Message LLC, a motivational speaking organization, and is a person in recovery. He is a high honors graduate of Delaware County Community College with an associate of arts degree in Communication and Media Studies. He can be reached for services at www.themessagellc.com.
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