Overcoming Adversity and Academic Defeat
When I think about overcoming adversity and academic defeat I can’t help but to think back to my first semester at Ohio State, autumn 2012, it was that semester that really shaped me into the person I am today. That semester was probably one of the most challenging times in my life, personally and intellectually. I grew up always knowing that I would go to college, I was fortunate enough to have had the privilege to attend one of the top high schools in Cleveland. I graduated with a 4.71 grade point average, I obtained college credits (via Ohio’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Option Program) and was number three in my high school graduating class; I served on student government and was a part of numerous other organizations, including 4-H, Youth Fund Distribution Committee and Youth Advisory Committee of Cuyahoga County, just to name a few. Thus, I figured if I continued what I had done the last four years then the next four would be just as simple. Upon arriving to Ohio State, I enrolled in 15 credit hours (taking the classes my academic advisor told me I had to) and maintained my high school study habits - which, let’s be honest, were really non-existent. Well, as we can all imagine I struggled, I struggled significantly and I still remember the day I failed my first math exam. It really came as a shock to me, I just remember thinking there’s no way, I’ve taken all honors math since eighth grade - and I excelled in it, so how could I had possibly failed this exam? Nonetheless, I went on convincing myself that next time would be different. So, instead of seeking helping after that, I told myself now that I know the format I would pass exam two. Well, the second exam quickly approached and yet I received another F, well in Ohio State’s case an E. At that point I felt defeated, I gave up - not just on math, but on Ohio State altogether; I was ready to go home. I was in a place that was pretty much foreign to me, I was constantly surrounded by people who did not look like me, speak like me, think like me, nor could relate to or understand the struggles I was dealing with. I felt isolated and alone, I remember calling home proclaiming I wanted to leave Ohio State because it was not the right fit for me, too ashamed to tell my family about my struggles, because I was the kid who “made it”. So not only did I not have someone to talk to on campus, I didn’t have anyone back home, to discuss what I was really experiencing with - academic defeat, for the first time ever. My family didn’t understand the college process, and in someway still to this day doesn’t, thus they could not provide any comfort to me, they couldn’t coach me through it, they couldn’t reassure me that things would get better - because they’ve never experienced it. I am a first-generation, first in my family college student and I’ve never felt so alone, dumb and hopeless than I did during my first semester at Ohio State. Thus I tuned it all out and put on the face so many students in my position put on, I smiled, laughed, and acted as if everything was going just as I had planned. Well, I went on to end that first semester with a whopping 0.972 GPA (yup, you read that correct); I failed my math course, withdrew from other course (I was lucky enough to even know that was a thing), and barely passed my other courses. At the conclusion of the semester I packed my belongings with no intentions of returning. I had been defeated.
About a week into winter break, I received “the email” from Ohio State consequently placing me on ‘academic probation’. The email was very long-winded and really focused more on the failures than the hopes and beliefs the University had in it students. It made no reference to support services for students, it didn’t give me any tips to improve upon my academics, it really only told me I was a failure and the University has loss faith that I would successfully matriculate through the system (check out the email on the right, I kept it because I’ve vowed to frame it in a diploma case upon earning my doctorate degree). So instead of calling a quits, at some point over the winter break, I chose not to give up; I did not want to become another statistic. I returned to Ohio State the following semester, I changed my major and sought assistance. I turned to people from all across the University for support; my professors; my NEW academic advisor; an individual, who unbeknownst to me would become a super mentor in my personal, professional, and academic journey; and my peers. I enrolled in tutoring and participated in study groups. And with that, I concluded my second semester with a 3.28 GPA and I never felt so good, I was on a high. It gave me the motivation I needed, it allowed me to see myself at Ohio State. I begin to feel connected to the campus, I no longer felt like just another number. I developed relationships and connections with people from all across the University, joined student organizations, and put it into my mind that I would go on to fight the fight for future students, so they don’t have to feel what I felt or experience what I experienced. I ultimately went on to graduate from Ohio State, on-time, in four years, with above a 3.0 cumulative GPA. I was accepted into a master’s program immediately after graduating and went on to complete that program in two years and am now pursuing a Ph.D at the very institution that had initially written me off six years prior.
My time at Ohio State is something that I will forever cherish, it taught me so many life lessons - from determination to persistence to self-wealth to self-care, but most importantly it taught me how to step outside of my comfort zone and continuously challenge myself (and the system). For my current college students and future ones, as you embark on this journey remember it won’t always be easy, but it’s completely worth it. You’ll learn things in college that you won’t learn anywhere else. You’ll learn so much about yourself. So, I encourage you to always challenge yourself to take advantage of the numerous opportunities presented to you; embrace your difference; embrace change; meet new people; challenge injustices, continuously reflect on your experiences, semester, year, and journey, because there’s nothing more valuable than self-awareness and reflection, as these are the true keys to self-improvement; and finally, step outside of your comfort zone. We all have our comfort zones, and while it’s not a bad thing, it can, at times, prevent us from fully immersing in a good experience. So as you go through this journey, we call life, as you step outside of your comfort zone, just remember to remain true to your authentic self and know that you are just as worthy to sit in those seats as anyone else in the room.
A midwestern native, DaVonti' was born in Detroit, Michigan and relocated to Cleveland, Ohio at the age of nine, where he graduated from Whitney M. Young Gifted & Talented Leadership Academy (Cleveland Metropolitan School District). DaVonti' is committed to the success of students from urban and rural communities and has dedicated his time to enhancing the student experience and bridging a pipeline between institutions of higher education and secondary school systems. His research interests include collegiate access for urban and rural populations, successful transition mechanisms, retention, and programming for students from high school to college. Currently, DaVonti’ is the assistant director of operations at the iBELIEVE Foundation, in addition to pursuing his Ph.D.
DaVonti’ Educational History:
2012 - HS Graduate, Cleveland Metropolitan School District
2016 - BA in public policy, The Ohio State University
2018 - Master’s of Social Work, The Ohio State University
In progress - Ph.D in agricultural communication, education, and leadership, The Ohio State University
Connect with DaVonti’:
DaVonti’ Haynes (LinkedIn)