What Being A First-Gen American HBCU Grad Means To Me
Every college student holds a uniquely personal story of triumph once they graduate.
January 03, 2022 at 10:12 pm
My HBCU journey is a bit different than my peers, but it has some similarities to them as well. My father’s family comes from the country of Cameroon, in Central Africa, and my mother’s family is deeply rooted in the South, specifically in Tennessee. Because of these major differences in background, I have always struggled to figure out where I fit in. However, attending my HBCU has taught me that it’s okay to stand out from the crowd and helped me to embrace every part of who I am.
I graduated from Hampton University Saturday, Dec 11th 2021 at 10:30 am. This has not been an easy journey by any means, but it’s absolutely been meaningful and purposeful every step of the way. From my first days at Hampton, nothing has been handed to me. I have had to work hard every step of the way and be open to changing my course several times over. There were many sleepless nights, many academic failures and professional mistakes made. However, what helped me get through it all is that I knew I was built for this because of how my Hampton journey began.
My Hampton journey began before I was born. When my Dad came to the States in the 80s, he met this wonderful couple whose names are Henry and Rose Rhetta. They were both Hampton Institute graduates who attended the university in the mid-1900s, and who were married in 1942. I grew up around them and their family, and from a young age admired their relationship with each other which lasted for 69 years. They created a beautiful legacy together which has impacted my life in a multitude of ways.
When I entered Hampton, I began to talk with Mrs. Rhetta, who at the time was 100 years old and is currently 104, about her Hampton days. She told me of the time when tuition cost $100, and everyone dressed up for every occasion, similar to the dress to impress culture we have now. Through her shared experiences, she has helped to cultivate my HBCU experience and make it meaningful even through the tough times, and for that, I will always be grateful. We did an interview together for Hampton’s 150th legacy as well
My mother’s family has a history of attending HBCUs, and this history along with the environment in which I grew up had a large impact on my college experience. I’m originally from St. Louis, Missouri, and pretty much everyone I met there had connections and ties to the HBCU community in the South. So when I started looking at colleges seriously, I knew that attending an HBCU was the only option for me. When I began looking at Hampton, I was not aware that I already had personal ties to the university. Even my first elementary school, Blossom Wood Day School, was founded by a Hampton woman, Mikia Pollard. It has always seemed to me that Hampton was chosen for me, long before I made my decision to spend my college years there.
This past Thanksgiving, I got the chance to reconnect with some of my family and discuss how impactful my HBCU experience has been. That for me was the perfect full-circle moment. I can finally say that I am living out my ancestors’ wildest dreams, and that is my greatest blessing.
Lydia Makondo is a Senior Strategic Communications Major Liberal Studies Minor attending Hampton University. She loves storytelling and sharing the stories of others through various platforms. She has a brand called The HBCU Experience where she shares the culture, history, and legacy of HBCUs on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. As a graduate, she plans to continue her studies in business and communications and will begin working in those fields while pursuing her Ph.D. in education. Check out these and her other initiatives on Linkedin and Instagram.