Mekal Banyasz

It has been a long ride from high school all the way to the completion of my undergraduate degree.  Although there were many times throughout my education that I thought I would not finish, my new focus is graduate school. I might never have imagined going any further than a bachelor’s degree but I have accepted an offer to attend the Daniel Evans School of Public Affairs on the Seattle campus this fall.

Much of my initial struggle had to do with my expectations regarding college, paired with the responsibilities that I had to juggle at the same time. In imagining my college experience, I only had popular media to inform me on what it might mean to be a student. This absence of reality brought some challenges. I imagined being able to attend college with the support and freedom to focus on school. But that wasn’t my journey. I was quite shocked when my mother asked me how I was going to pay for school, as I hadn’t given it any thought. My desire to attend must have taken the attention from the necessity of financing my dream. Even with these barriers, I made my way towards an education.

When I think back to my experiences in high school I can see how I struggled with balancing the needs of my family with the expectations of the classroom. My family required more of me than I could give, as both a daughter and a student. Within the walls of the classroom I always felt like an outsider as I tried to grapple with the demands of learning and the distraction of my life at home.

Being first generation and non-traditional posed various challenges as I sought my degree. For me, these challenges meant that I had to acquire skills that were not readily available to me within my networks as a young adult. My father tried his hand at college but found it too difficult to provide for our family in addition to finding the time and funding to go to class. The remaining evidence of his semester at college was several thick books that now reside on my bookshelf. I often leafed through their pages and imagined what the classes might be like. I have always enjoyed reading and I think that has been one of the skills that have helped me maintain an eye on my education, even when I thought I wasn’t making progress fast enough. Since then I have taught myself how to navigate financial aid, conquer the FAFSA, budget my personal finances, and champion studying. Initially this seemed so daunting, but my desire to set a precedent for my younger sister became additional encouragement in unraveling the mysteries of success. I needed it, I wanted it, and I knew that I could get there if I just put my mind to it.

In the beginning I had to work full time while going to school. I attended when I could afford it and I often worked multiple jobs just to do so. I have worked in a factory, changed oil, entered data, made lattes, ran multiple businesses, served food, led teams, and volunteered all to make a living and further my funds for school. I had to make pivotal decisions that allowed me to maintain a focus on my education as well as my survival. The obstacles I faced became invaluable at the college level. As difficult as all of this was for me I value my experiences, because they are mine alone and I couldn’t have done it without resilience and the ability to advocate for myself.

The sacrifices I made and the time it has taken have put me where I am today, exactly where I am supposed to be. The knowledge I gained transformed me into a resource for those around me. Knowing how difficult the college experience can be has informed my actions and given me the initiative to help others whenever I get the chance. My position within the Student Success Center has allowed me to fulfill my need to assist others. I continue to learn as each student provides a new perspective.  

I am so nervous to walk across the stage because I have been waiting for this for what feels like an eternity. But I earned it and I will continue to push forward within my own adventure. I know I have much to look forward to in my future.