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Trying Not to Become Another Statistic

By Vanessa Yates

I have been writing and telling stories my whole life. I have always had a quirky personality, and at 20 years old, I now cherish who I am. That wasn’t always the case. My family had very little money growing up. My torn clothes and “annoying” enthusiasm quickly turned me into a target for bullying. Today, I’m more confident in who I am, but I still fight against the odds for my education and well-being.

My name is Vanessa Yates. I am in my second semester at Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD) but I hope to transfer to a university soon. My interest in storytelling is the main reason I’m excited to write for Detroit Drives Degrees. Through this opportunity, I can share students’ experiences that tell the story behind the education data in Southeast Michigan. These stories will be shared with the goal to inspire students, business leaders and the greater community to prioritize education in our region. I am truly fascinated by the stories I hear every day from my peers and believe they deserve to be heard.

Goal to Graduate

I was 12 when I moved to Detroit and started middle school at Phoenix Academy in Southwest Detroit, which closed a few years after the state’s Education Achievement Authority took over. I was smart but made mediocre grades because it was hard for me to concentrate at school with bullying and having a shy personality.

At home, I spent afternoons driving to nicer neighborhoods with my mom and sister to look through garbage and find scrap metal. We junked the metal to feed my family; it is how we made ends meet.

My situation at home and bullying in school took its toll on my confidence until I did not feel like myself. This continued through high school, where I attended Western International High School. While at Western, I battled depression for the whole four years of my attendance. Most of my teachers saw potential in me, but my grades went up and down along with my emotions. I almost thought I would not graduate.

Finally, senior year came and I started to pull my grades up because I was determined to graduate and even attend college, I just had no idea how I was going to pull it off. Things were going great until halfway through the year my dad had a heart attack and lost his job. This left my family in a dire financial situation, but I still graduated on time in 2016.

My father’s recovery prevented me from starting college right away and I went to work full-time at a plastics factory to support my family. When my father finally recovered, I moved out, filled out my FAFSA and started college in fall of 2017.

Living Against the Odds

Today, I work 35 hours a week at Chipotle Mexican Grill and take four classes at WCCCD. I’m able to manage my bouts of depression and in between my classes, I walk the campus trying to spark conversations and collect stories.

I live with my sister, her boyfriend, their daughter, my best friend, and my girlfriend. We share one car and work around each other’s separate schedules for work, school, cheerleading practice, grocery shopping, doctor appointments, and other errands.

When I have free time, I either sit on the couch watching animation or explore Michigan’s natural parks. Lately, I have not had as much free time because my girlfriend is sick and we are constantly in and out of the hospital and missing classes because she is in pain. Life is tough so it is good that we have a house full of people to support us.

I’m determined to transfer to a four-year university and graduate with a bachelor’s degree, but I know I’m going against the odds. At Western University, only 6 percent of the 2011 high school graduates earned a four-year degree six years after graduation. I’m committed to being part of that six percent and I hope that efforts through Detroit Drives Degree and others can help increase that number. I’m really only beginning my college journey and I have a long way to go before I’m successful. Doing well in my classes is the easy part; it is the rest I am still trying to figure out.

When my friends and I left home, we built this support system and, in a way we built our own family. I did not have much support when I was younger and I made it through. I’m confident that my experience overcoming challenges and my new support will help me through this phase of my journey.

Life can sometimes feel like a beaver dam. As much as you want your river to flow easy, sometimes things can block your path and pressure can build. When the pressure is too much on me, I rely on the bonds of family and friends; sometimes just laughing and being there for each other is enough to get me through another week.