March 27, 2017

Scholar Voices: On honoring my family by honoring myself

In this month’s Scholar Voices series, we hear from recent Temple University graduate and Earl Woods Scholar alum Mariah Green. Full of ambition and brimming with a deep desire to leave this world better than she found it, Mariah poignantly reflects on the undue responsibility many first-generation students feel to accept high-paying, less-fulfilling career paths in order to support their families. Learn more about Mariah’s journey and how she found her path toward living her passion. 

The day you graduate from college is undoubtedly one of the most memorable moments. Relishing in this celebratory occasion is blissful because you learn to appreciate the discipline and commitment that birthed this accomplishment, the personal challenges that were endured and the evolution of growth that took place during those four years. If you are a student, who like myself is the first from your family to graduate college, this moment is not just yours. It is a milestone for you and your loved ones because the WHY is for them. Their sacrifice and selfless support is what helped you position yourself for success. 

Admittedly, I viewed the opportunity to walk across the stage as more of a gift to my family than as a major personal accomplishment. During my time in school, I was conflicted between selecting a career that maximized my chances to earn a high income or exploring the social sector where the likelihood of earning a decent income is sometimes small. For 23 years, I watched my grandmother rise for work as early as 2 a.m. for six days a week, and although I admired her work ethic, I was not comfortable knowing that this was her norm. I wanted to change that. 

So, I switched my major from social work and selected strategic communications, a broader major that would allow me to explore opportunities in both the private and social sector. I enrolled in a well-known career development program that connected me with recruiters from global Fortune 500 companies. The summer before my senior year, I was flown out to interview with top tech companies and consulting and financial investment firms the summer before my senior year. I became so immersed in the process that I began to lose sight of what I really wanted. In hindsight, with many of the opportunities I explored, I could not visualize myself in those positions, and when I finally received full-time offers, I declined.  

Forgoing a secure full-time offer in hopes of finding a position that aligned with my passion was admirable to my friends and family. Though I was proud I remained true to my values, the thought of being unemployed after graduation terrified me.  

Nevertheless, I persisted until I discovered the right opportunity. Eventually, I was offered a unique fellowship that allowed me to explore social change, consulting in the philanthropic space. Although the fellowship was a term-limited position, I was thrilled because I knew it would offer me a different lens on the ways in which I could explore other lines of work to support disadvantaged communities. 

But the night before my graduation, I ruminated on all of my major decisions during my time at Temple University. Although, I knew my family would be happy with any career I explored, I started to believe that my decision to “follow my passion” was selfish. Wishful thinking began to surface, and I wondered if I should have selected a major in STEM or accounting — disciplines that many of my peers selected in an effort to support their families.

On the day of my graduation, I was showered with love. My tiny two-bedroom apartment was packed. My mom, dad, grandmother, younger siblings and close friends drove from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, just to celebrate my accomplishment. When I reflect on this day, I wish I would have celebrated myself, because 10 months later, I am proud that I elected to follow my interests. 

I was recently offered an opportunity to work at one of the best youth development organizations in D.C., and as always, my family couldn’t be more supportive. In my spare time, I am working with young movers and shakers to build up DC LEVEE, a youth development arts nonprofit in D.C., and I couldn’t be prouder. 

So to the first-generation college student placing unnecessary stress on yourself, no one asked you to be the “savior” for your family. Opt for what ignites your fire, elect to be true to yourself, remain patient and be steadfast as you search for the right opportunity and the rest will follow.  

Champions of the unexpected.