Wanda Heading-Grant

If you open up a Webster's dictionary or any dictionary you would probably see my face next to the word "diversity." It's just all around my life, particularly as an adult, it's just something that I seem to sort of live, breath and sleep.

But I still am a first generation college student and I have this funny story I think about when thinking about my time here at UVM. When trying to select a college, which university I was going to go to, I tried to figure out ways of narrowing it down. I didn't have any models, role models or any kind of process to sort of help me eliminate some schools, so one way that I eliminated the University of Pittsburgh and put the University of Vermont on top, was that I decided that Pittsburgh was just too cold and it's ironic because it told a lot of people in terms of what I knew about the University of Vermont before I came; I came sight unseen. The only way or reason I knew that the University of Pittsburgh was likely to be cold was I would sort of keep an eye on my father and brothers as they watched football on T.V. and that was my image which was seeing the snow on the ground at the stadium, and so it's all I knew.

But my first drive up here from New Jersey happened to be in the summer time with my mother, my aunt and my cousin. We took the scenic route. We got lost and we ended up taking the scenic route and it was so beautiful. The sights that we were seeing and particularly the vegetation, I really like looking at flowers and beautiful colors and it just happened to be that time of year.

I came here for the summer enrichment program in the early part of July and it was just a beautiful ride and it helped to relieve some of my anxieties. The anxieties that I had about coming to the University of Vermont really was about whether I was going to be accepted, liked, how I was going to be viewed as an African American and I just didn't know what to expect. I certainly did hit some bumps in the road here at the University of Vermont, but for different reasons then what my anxiety was about. It was not about who I was as an African American.

I was very fortunate to have a very close knit group of people as educators and administrators who cared about my success. They nurtured me and guided me and challenged me. I was fortunate because as a student of color I was surrounded by people who got what my challenges were going to be and not just the fact that I was going to be missing home. They knew what it meant to be at a predominantly white institution as a female student of color. Over time I did mature and I was smart enough to recognize that there were opportunities here and not just challenges and I realized that every student is different, but I wouldn't change one thing about my college experience here at the University of Vermont.

I feel very strong, I feel very intelligent, I feel very proud about who I am. I dare to move beyond my comfort zone and now 20 years later, or so, I am working at my alma matter. I feel very honored to be formally a part of making a difference on this campus and UVM has allowed me to be me and to also be a better me.