Overcoming adversity is an important test of a person’s character. The journey to graduation of Samantha Robinson, ‘CAS 19, has revealed her secret weapon: perseverance.
“One of her greatest strength is her unrelenting spirit − that resiliency, that grit, that we know is necessary for our students to succeed,” says her mentor, Robin Adams, Director of Educational Programs and Training for the Center of Diversity and Inclusion (CDI).
Samantha grew up in Boston and attended a small, achievement-focused high school that she described as a pressure cooker. The school was so intense, she hesitated even to raise her hand in class.
The school set her up for academic success, but she never felt fully accepted. “I had all these people telling me that I wasn’t good enough and that I’m doing fine for a black girl,” Robinson recalls.
She wanted to attend a college that was bigger and also more welcoming than her high school. DC had always appealed to Robinson, and on a visit to campus, a small act of kindness helped her to make the final decision. “I remember coming with my mom in the middle of a school day and someone opened the door for us and was super friendly,” Robinson recalls. “It just made an impact on me and made me want to go here more.”
But when she arrived, her first year was a challenge on several levels. Her high-school experience deeply affected her self-esteem, and she initially had a hard time connecting with other students. “That was really hard for me, because I felt like I was trying to put myself out there and find my place,” Robinson remembers. “It didn’t come as naturally, like the movies where everyone finds their best friends two minutes into freshmen year and everyone's living their best life.”
Robinson even considered transferring from AU during her first year. Then she joined DC Reads, a program to tutor DC public school children, a popular volunteer offering of the Center for Community Engagement and Services. Not only was the experience rewarding -- she also found the connections she needed.
“We would drive to site every day and it was like a 15-to-20-minute drive where would debrief,” Robinson says . “I made friends during those drives.”
Robinson stayed on and became a leader in DC Reads. During her senior year, she took on another challenge, leading a new children’s educational program with CDI’s Adams at Columbia Heights Village Apartments, a subsidized housing complex in DC’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.
Once again, persistence paid off. It was a challenging program to implement, especially after Adams left CCES to take on her current role in CDI, but by now it was clear that Robinson was a person who could meet challenges and succeed . Adams has high praise for Robinson’s resilience despite the difficulties “She continues to fight for those kids in that project,” Adams notes.
Robinson is thinking about her next steps after AU. Now she’ll be taking that spirit of perseverance back to Boston, where she is thinking of working for Americorps. Her long-term goal: run a nonprofit focusing on homelessness or education.
Looking back on her AU experience, Robinson has advice for current and future first-year students. “You don't need to constantly compare yourself to how everyone else is doing,” Robinson says. “If you put all that energy you worried about your competition into your work, it's going make you more productive -- and also make you feel like a better person.”