Imani and Braxton:A Compton Love Story

By: Keisha Simpson-Baker

My palms were sweaty and my legs felt weak as I walked towards the office with the closed door. Mom was counting on me to make this happen. I was counting me to make this happen. I opened the door and there sat two middle-aged White men and one older Black woman. All three had nametags adorned with the Wisconsin “W” logo. I shook hands with all three and then sat on the other side of the table. They introduced themselves one by one and they were all deans of different disciplines within the University.

“Imani, nice meeting you. We want to learn a little bit more about each of the applicants before making the final selection for the ten scholarships. So far we’ve narrowed down the applicants to students who did well on paper, meaning they have the grades and the test scores but we want to make sure we are choosing students who will flourish at Wisconsin to add to our student body. We also want to make sure that the scholarship recipient will graduate in a timely manner.”

Each of the deans had a stack of paperwork in front of them that included my transcripts, essay, and other various things about me. I just nodded and waited for him to ask me a direct question.

“So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself outside of school? We can already see here that you’re an excellent student.”

“Yes, thank you.” I really needed to get ahold of myself. I continued, “I’m actually involved in a lot of activities after school hours. Freshman year, I was involved in our school’s academic decathlon team and I was the team specialist for biology. That was a lot of fun, being able to compete against other schools. Sophomore year, I joined journalism club that produces newspapers for the school and I’m still doing that this year–”

The woman to the far right cut me off, “That’s nice, Imani, but have you participated in anything outside of school programs?”

“I have worked at a park program called the Reading Room summer program for the past two summers.”

When I mentioned this, all three seemed to perk up so I elaborated, “It’s a summer program for elementary aged children that helps them keep up with what they’ve learned throughout the year and prepares them for the upcoming fall semester. Our main focus was on reading comprehension and improving the literacy rate in my community.”

Up until this point, they had sat pretty stoically, but now they were scribbling in their notepads.

“So tell me, Imani, was this a paid position?”

“No, it was voluntary. I really enjoy working with children and they really needed the help at the Reading Room. I spent many summers there when I was younger so it was great that I was able to give back and work with some of my old teachers.”

“That’s really interesting. Have you ever worked in a paid position?”

“Yes, I have. This past summer, in addition to doing the Reading Room, I worked at the Los Angeles Zoo. I worked with children there teaching about conservation and general science concepts. It was a great place to do that because I had all the creatures that we were studying live and in person, so to speak.”

“That’s excellent, Imani. It sounds like you have a talent with working with children. Is that something you would want to pursue, maybe going into teaching or education?”

I really did not want to be a teacher. I felt like they wanted me to say yes but I had seen enough teachers get trampled on by horrible students and even worse, the parents. It just wasn’t for me so instead of telling an outright lie I went with the truth. “Although I enjoy working with children, I think that I am better suited to go a more scientific route as far as my career goals. I will always work with children through volunteer programs but on a day-to-day basis, I think I would rather do scientific work.”

The gentleman on the end who had been silent up until this point spoke up. “The sciences at Wisconsin are notoriously challenging and many students end up either switching majors or dropping out of college altogether. How will you be able to ensure that you remain in your chosen field of study and complete the degree?”

“Well, I know I don’t come from the most rigorous school but I have tried my best to challenge myself so that I will be well prepared for any college that I choose next fall. I am currently in AP science classes, and I plan on taking more next semester. I’ve also noticed how much Wisconsin offers it students with tutoring and academic help. If I ever fall behind in class, I know there are plenty of places that can help me. I’m also not shy about asking the professor or the assistant for help after lectures.”

After that question, we mainly had small talk about weather differences between southern California and Wisconsin and about Badger football. I was then told to check out with the receptionist and that I would hear from them before mid-December, which left a long time for me to wait.

As I exited the building, I could feel my heart rate decrease. I called my mom to pick me up and I got in the car and told her all about it.

“Imani, it sounds like it went really well. I’m still just as excited as I was before and I still say you have a good chance.”

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