Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck — yes, that's her real name — graduated from Wisconsin's Cardinal Stritch University in May with a Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education. She wanted to prove to the world that, despite having a rather unique name, she could make it in life.
"People make such a big deal out of it, I couldn't get away from it," Vandyck told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Marijuana Pepsi is her legal name — and no, she doesn't smoke and she's not a huge fan of soda.
"Vandyck" was added after she married her current husband Fredrick in 2017. The 46-year-old, who grew up between Chicago, Illinois, and Beloit, Wisconsin, says she used to question why her mom gave her such an odd name (her sisters are named Kimberly and Robin).
"It makes it difficult sometimes," Vandyck previously admitted to The Today Show.
Her mom apparently believed her name would take her places. And in reality, she has gone places. Vandyck lives on a farm in Pecatonica, Illinois, with her husband (they have four children — her 16-year-old son, as well as three children and a grandchild on her husband's side). In addition to teaching and running a performance coaching company, Vandyck started an annual scholarship award for African American students enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
But it wasn't always easy. Vandyck was constantly teased growing up, especially in junior high. She dreaded when teachers conducted roll call.
"Every single class, the teacher is taking attendance out loud, and as they slowly get down through the J's, I'm just like here it comes. 'Marianna? Marijuana?' And all the students turn to see who it is," she said.
Vandyck used these situations to her advantage and wrote her thesis on the topic: "Black names in white classrooms: Teacher behaviors and student perceptions."
For her dissertation, she spoke with other Black students who had unique names. They also opened up about those tense moments when teachers would pause on their names during roll call.
Today, she is proud to call herself Dr. Marijuana Pepsi. In a way, she thanks her mother, and she admits her name may have given her a sense of resilience.
"I’ve grown into my name because I am a strong woman," she told Today. "I’ve had to be."