I didn’t give up

Shaqualia Smith outside SJGC. Photo by Justin Brown

Being a middle-aged college student is far from easy, but when youre destined for greatness while having faith, it levels things out.

All throughout grade school I was always a popular kid who loved attention. I cheered, ran track, attended theater school and did the morning and afternoon announcements in high school. When I graduated from Northeast High School in 2003, I dreamed of becoming a Rattler after taking a college trip and falling in love with the university and its culture. Due to financial circumstances I was unable to attend FAMU so I enrolled into our local college, St. Petersburg College, to obtain my associate’s degree.

While attending school, my mother helped me get an apartment and paid it up for a year until I got on my feet. I come from a medical background. My mother is an experienced ICU nurse. So I decided to take a two-week certified nursing assistant class in 2005. Being a CNA paid the bills because I knew it was a stepping stone and something I had no desire to do forever.

While years quickly passed by, I began to get to know myself and what my purpose was. I had great opportunities from working and interning with radio stations and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2015, my brother was drafted No. 3 overall in the NFL Draft. That really motivated me because watching him give his all to something he loved so much in order to make it to greatness while overcoming obstacles helped me believe that I could too.

I will never forget my brothers agent, the late Eugene Parker, promising me a job with his talent agency if I finished college. That was enough for me.

In 2016, I began college again but this time I didnt take a break, I kept going and I stayed focused because I knew I had a purpose and something to look forward to. Managing my bills while going to school was hard, especially when youre a single woman. The faith that I had, and the God that I serve, gave me the strength to keep walking and to keep fighting.

 Graduating in May of 2019, I had a tough decision to make: Do I go to school for nursing because it will pay the bills, or do I take the risk of stepping out on faith to accomplish my dreams and be happy with what I would do for the rest of my life.

After graduation, I prayed and spoke with God about my life and where my destination would be after I make my decision. The next day I applied to Florida A&M University just for kicks and giggles to see if I got accepted into the journalismprogram. In October 2019, I received my acceptance letter five months after making a decision of going to nursing school. At first, I ignored the letter because I had already made the decision to go to nursing school and didnt have the money to move. I began to become sick at the thought of not following my purpose and dreams of becoming a journalist, or PR, and working at the hospital everyday knowing this was a job that the only interest I had was taking care of patients and helping them feel better. The thought of being in the entertainment business, or telling a story that people wanted to hear while showing my personality, brought so much joy to my soul. I knew then that it was time for me to put myself first.

I remember calling FAMU to  see if the university could assist me with my journey. Once I began speaking with my adviser, Kareem Kelly, I told myself that I will not stop. I began searching for jobs and places to live in Tallahassee. I was even fired from my second job because I was more focused on going back and forth to job interviews in Tallahassee than being at my job. I did not care because I knew where I was headed and there was nothing that would stop me.

I found a job at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare as an insurance verifier, and I made a sacrifice to work as a CNA in order to make extra money for a deposit on my apartment in Tallahassee. With the help of my cousin Darryl, we moved all of my things to Tallahassee. I began working and taking classes, but the anxiety of moving, working, and taking five classes was so intense it caused me to have hypertension. I was put on high blood pressure medicine.

 When I began to attend FAMU  in the spring of 2020, I felt a bit out of place because I was a 34-year-old woman. I was in classes with people ages 18 to 22.

I was so excited to see all of the great things FAMU had to offer, but unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic started, sending me back home to my family. Ive never been to a FAMU homecoming, nor a graduation so I was disappointed that I would not be able to experience it due to COVID.

While home with my family, I continued classes online. In June 2020, I became very sick later and was diagnosed with COVID. I had shortness of breath, and a pounding headache. That’s what caused me to get tested. That was the most fearful thing Ive experienced in a long time.

While quarantining, I received an interest meeting email for being on FAMU’s radio station, 90.5 FM: “The flava station.” I went to the interest meeting, took the required tests and training. I am now an on-air talent on 90.5, and I couldnt be happier. I feel as though I am now part of a great team and I am following my purpose and accomplishing my dreams. This is what happiness feels like and I am enjoying every bit of it.

I am also blessed and humbled because I didnt give up on me and my dream. I am a junior, and I’m scheduled to graduate in 2022. Although, I have overcome obstacles and have sometimes lost sight of my purpose, making it hard to keep moving at times, I am now a Rattler because I did not give up.