I once thought school beyond my reach. Now I'm graduating with my doctorate

Written by Graduate Ambassador Ariel Seay-Howard
Department of Communication
College of Fine, Performing & Communication Arts

As I reflect on my academic journey at Wayne State University, I cannot help but think about my struggles, good times, and overall growth.

I will be graduating this year, and if you had told me as a little girl that I would be graduating with my doctorate, I would not have believed it. Growing up in the predominantly white educational system, I struggled with learning the material, staying on track with assignments, and grasping the overall content. I remember thinking that school must not be for me when I was placed in special education classes, because my teachers did not know how to teach me. As a result, I often felt dumb, left out, and depressed that I could not get the whole school thing down. However, looking back, my drive and work ethic pushed me to prove that I was destined to make positive social change in the world, and that I could figure out my way to be successful in the educational system. I just needed more guidance and time.

When I first applied to the doctoral communication program at Wayne State, I was terrified that I was making a big mistake because of the imposter syndrome, disguised as that little girl telling me that I could not do it. But, again, I pushed past that fear and worked harder than I have ever worked in my life to accomplish this goal. Yes, I failed at times and cried a lot, but I also found my authentic self, and learned that I deserved to give myself grace as I moved through the program. I think about all the insecurities I came to the program with and all the confidence I am leaving the program with. I believe that we as humans do not tell ourselves that we are proud of ourselves enough, and that we deserve to celebrate every win, regardless if it is big or small. I learned to do this more during my journey, and it feels good to acknowledge your accomplishments and not depend on others' praises. As I continue to reflect on this journey, I think about survival and emotional maintenance and how both ideas helped to get me through my journey.

I had to ensure I found the best and healthiest ways for me to survive while in the program. Whether finding an outside passion project or spending time with myself or friends and family, I knew that I had to make sure I had the right tools to survive. That sounds pretty dramatic, but there is a survival mindset that a person going through this kind of journey needs. Next, I had to constantly check in with my emotions, and I noticed that I had to dig deep into past traumatic situations to face current issues. I thought I had dealt with those issues, but I saw that they would seep out in various ways, which made me realize I needed to work on myself to grow and become a better human. Finally, I learned I needed to give myself kindness and grace. I got a therapist, so I could know how to rely on myself during tough times, and honestly, it was the best decision I could have made for myself. I feel more at ease when dealing with internal and external conflicts, and I understand when I must put boundaries in place. Yes, even for family members!

All these tools and steps I have taken have set me up for success and my future as a doctor of philosophy. The journey was intense, hard, and dreadful at times, but it was also joyful, beautiful and will always have a special place in my heart. As the new Assistant Professor of Race, Rhetoric, and Communication at North Carolina State University, I can now apply what I know in my new position and personal life.

My story is not unique, but it is my story, and I hope I can inspire anyone who has doubted themselves to face the challenge and push past the fear of the unknown. Who knows, you just might surprise yourself.   

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