A few months ago I was offered an all-expense paid trip to Orlando Florida to speak on a panel at the 2017 HASTAC Conference. When I found out that I was chosen, I was in shock that The Futures Initiative Peer Mentoring Program really chose me “Cherishe A Cumma” an undergraduate, to attend such a prestigious event. For those of you who many not be familiar with the Futures Initiative Peer Mentoring program, click the link here for more information on the program. The Futures Initiative Peer Mentoring program is a community of CUNY students from vast disciplines, who come together and build meaningful relationships with one another. The current mentors and mentees in this program and myself, dedicate our time to focusing on elements such as student centered pedagogy, peer mentoring, and leadership development.
On Thursday November 2nd, I traveled with members of The Futures Initiative Team such as Cathy Davidson, Lauren Melendez, Frances Tran and Mike Rifino to The University of Central Florida to present at The HASTAC Conference. While at the Conference, my panel members and I participated in a poster presentation on “’New Majority’ Student Success: Fostering Connection, Renewal and Leadership Through Peer Mentoring” as well as a panel discussion on “The Possible Worlds of Digital Humanities”. On the day of our presentation I was in a very strange mental state, and I could not figure out what was happening to me emotionally. However, the panel discussion commenced and when it was my turn to speak about my experience in The Futures Initiative Peer Mentoring program I lost complete control of my tear ducts. My heart was so touched that I was afforded the opportunity to speak at an event of this caliber, that I could no longer contain my emotions. My tears began to pour out of me as I spoke, but I was determined to get my point across, and that is exactly what I did.
After the panel discussion was over I made my way towards the door to get some fresh air. However, I was stopped by a few audience members who had heard my speech, and wanted to commend me for telling my truth. I was, for a lack of a better words, confused. I thought to myself: How could these people understand me through my blubbering? What I didn’t realize was that my display of vulnerability allowed people to understand me, and also relate and share their stories with me about their own struggles within academia.
I have decided to share this important moment in my life with you, with hopes that you can understand that sometimes being emotional doesn’t mean you are weak. I chose to take down the facade, and show the audience members who I was and how I really felt about The Futures Initiative Peer Mentoring program. This program has afforded me the opportunities to become an undergraduate editor of the book “Structuring Equality: A Handbook for Student-Centered Learning” , then a student author in the upcoming Diversity & Democracy issue focusing on Building Institutional Capacity for Student Success. Even after giving me so much, they assisted me with admission to The CUNY Pipeline Program at The Graduate Center and then paid for me to attend the HASTAC Conference. Can you see that my tears were not a moment of weakness on my part, but a feeling of overwhelming gratitude? Had I not applied for The Futures Initiative Program, I would not have gained the opportunities I listed above, but I also may not have been qualified to write for this blog in the first place. This program has given me so much, and in that moment when I was asked to reflect on my experience,that abundance of amazing opportunities the program has afforded me, all came to me at once .
As a student from a CUNY campus, it was overwhelming to visit another university to talk in an academic space about how I feel. To be heard by people from prestigious universities who were interested in what I had to say was a game changer for me, and it made think back to the day I received the email to apply for The Futures Initiative Program from my professor Anwar Uhuru. Had I ignored his instructions to apply for this program, I would not be in the position I am in today. My point in saying all of this is to tell you, that being open emotionally allows other to see you and see pieces of themselves in you. When that occurs, you form relationships with people who you would have never imagined could happen. However in order for you to be put in a position where you can cry on a panel, you must first take the chance and apply for the program.
As Syelle Graves once said to me “Dont ignore your emails, read them on your desktop computer”. By reading your email , and applying for programs you can put yourself in the position to not only have your voice heard, but also find the right listeners. My advice to all CUNY students is to change your destiny, read your emails, apply for programs, and most of all don’t be afraid to show who you are on the inside.
Now that I have shared my experiences with you, tell me if you have ever been in a position where you have been emotional at an inopportune moment? If not, Have you ever applied to a program that changed you life for the better? Lastly, have you ever almost missed out on an opportunity because you ignored an email?