Keep Moving Forward, but Remember to Pay it Backwards
Going through school I never really had much foresight. I vaguely remember talking with someone my 9th grade year in high school about going to college. It was brief. I think all I said was I wanted to major in psychology and left it at that. The topic was revisited late in my 11th grade year and throughout my senior year of high school. I was on track to graduate number two of my class so my counselors and mentors talked with me more about what I wanted to do. “I just want to help people.” Was what I thought and that manifested into my pursuit of a psychology degree because it gave me that opportunity. With that degree I could do a lot of things. I could become a teacher, counselor, social worker, work in human resources, practice therapy and so much more. I wanted to go this route to pursue counseling and therapy because that interests me the most in helping people that way.
I decided to attend The Ohio State University. This was a great opportunity for me. Not a lot of people coming from where I come from got this opportunity. My mom was proud of me and my community was pouring support into me. I promised that I would do well by them so I could come back and make a difference. In spite of all this greatness that I had to look forward to ahead of me, in the back of my mind I had a few doubts. One concern was my lack of “excitement” that everyone around me had. Other seniors seemed really enthusiastic about taking off to their colleges and universities, I was lacking that because to me it just felt like more school. I have been in school my whole life. Then another concern, which did not bother me much at first but grew as the years passed was that some people were telling me that my high school achievements meant nothing. That I was going to reach college and my A’s and B’s would turn to C’s. What a thing to say to a young person trying to do better for themself, right? As an adult they could not have found any encouragement or advice to give me? They chose to say that? I appreciated it all the same though because in reality I did not need those people to believe in me. I believed in myself enough so they could sit back and just witness what I was about to achieve. I thought they don’t need to clap for me, simply hold that seat in the audience because I am going to put on a show even without their applause.
Early in my collegiate career I was doing well. For the first year or two I was able to maintain a B average. Also, I had a work study position at the Black Cultural Center, I was involved in mentoring Black males on campus, and I picked up a second job working under one of my most cherished mentors that inspired me to work within the community. I was extremely grateful for all these experiences I gained and people I met.
As I went on things just kept piling on. I was working two jobs and struggling to pay for school, other bills, classes were getting a bit harder, I had been spreading my self thin with over involvement on campus, and overall was gaining a sense of “burn out” where I became so exhausted in everything and was fed up with school. The naysayers were right, my As turned to Cs. School was tiresome; however, I kept moving forward. No matter how small the steps I took became, no matter if I even stumbled as I took them I kept pressing on. This was a journey I took with not just myself in mind, it would have been easier to simply give up on myself a while ago, but I was committed to finish for my mother, my community, my mentees, for the people that could not be here and whoever else ever gave me a chance and believed in me. I could not give up on them.
Now I am a graduate of The Ohio State University. I moved back home to my community in Cleveland, Ohio. I am taking a break from school for now to work, connect with others back home and inspire people to foresee some goals for themselves as the mentors that guided me along the way did for me. I am home to pay it backwards and give back to all the outlets that poured into me so that others can benefit from them as well. I plan to go back to school for social work, become licensed for counseling and therapy and eventually attain my PhD as well. A message from me would be for people to not give up on themselves and keep moving forward. You may not know how far you can go but you will never get there if you give up now. Find something bigger than yourself to invest in and do not give up on it because when you are gone your legacy will live on.
Zaid Hightower is an inner city Cleveland native born and raised on the east side. As valedictorian of the Class of 2014 from Ginn Academy he went on to earn his degree in Psychology from The Ohio State University and graduated in 2018. He currently works for the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland and as a Treatment Specialist for a social work agency. He plans to enroll in graduate school to attain his Master’s degree in social work, become a licensed therapist and move on to earn his Ph.D.
Zaid Educational History:
2014 - HS Graduate, Cleveland Metropolitan School District
2018 - BA in psychology, The Ohio State University