Calling myself a proud HBCU graduate would be quite the understatement. I am a gold and white waving, “that’s my HBCU” saying, history spouting, “my school is better than your school” bragging, #HBCUProud kind of alumna.

I absolutely credit Xavier University of Louisiana, of which I am a prouder-than-proud class of 2005 graduate, with fostering my growth, expanding my knowledge and challenging me to become the professional I am today. But before I ever stepped foot on Xavier’s campus, I was a pigtailed wearing little girl sitting in front of my television enamored with the cultural phenomenon known as A Different World

Pictured: (l-r) Kadeem Hardison as Dwayne Cleophus Wayne, Darryl M. Bell as Ronald 'Ron' Johnson/Credit: Bob Gersny

It was September 1987 and I had just entered preschool when the six-season NBC series spinoff of The Cosby Show premiered, showcasing Denise Huxtable’s (Lisa Bonet) sophomore year in college as a legacy of the fictional HBCU, Hillman College. Admittedly the first season of the show was not necessarily an accurate depiction of the HBCU experience, but after being taken over by Howard University alumna, Debbie Allen, the show became an epic tribute to HBCU culture.

#RepresentationMatters, because being exposed to an HBCU right in my living room on Thursday nights definitely encouraged me to attend Xavier. It was the display of Black excellence for me! But moreover, it showed me that there were institutions of higher learning made for people just like me, who at that time may not have otherwise known about a world outside of their neighborhoods. 

Somewhere within the show’s six seasons, I remember asking my older brother not if Hillman itself was real, but if such a college actually existed. Some Black folks have access to HBCUs by way of their immediate or close extended family members. But as a first-generation college student, I’d be the only person in my immediate family to ever graduate college, so this wasn’t necessarily a dinner table conversation in my household. My brother, who's 13 years my senior, is my only other immediate family member to attend college. He had chosen The Art Institute of Philadelphia, so while he made sure to include me in his family-friendly college experiences, the idea of an HBCU was still a myth to me. 

“It’s real,” my brother told me. “Not Hillman, but Black colleges are real.” 

And just like that, I set my sights on going somewhere I could be accepted just as I was -- Black. And no matter how fictional, I became a student at Hillman College. While I can’t say I retained much from A Different World’s original airings, I certainly absorbed it all as a pre-teen watching Saturday afternoon reruns.

Here's how the show assured me that an HBCU was the collegiate path I wanted to take.