Flashback to December 2009. I was sitting in my sweatpants and oversized Class of 2010 t-shirt, filling out college applications and praying for my SAT scores to magically inflate overnight. I was mad at myself – I didn’t try hard enough. I spent most of my high school days working four or five days a week at Rotelli, focusing on my TV production classes and ignoring all my core classes. I didn’t join enough clubs, or get accepted into enough honor societies and now I was kicking myself for spending so much time learning to serve tables and a lengthy dinner menu.
But there I was, scouring the Florida Atlantic University website, trying to decipher if I applied there or not. But then I saw it – I was accepted and was offered a $3,000/yr grant for four years. My world slowly melted away. I sat up a little straighter and my eyes widened so much I’m sure I looked like I just saw a ghost. My feet suddenly took control and I ran into my mom’s room as she was hanging up laundry.
“I’m going to Florida Atlantic University!”
It was hard in high school. People were getting into prestigious colleges, completing with GPAs well over a 4.0. And there I was, wearing my black work uniform to the only after school event I could make because I had to go to work. People rubbed it in my face that I was only going to a local university and I definitely lost “friends” because I suddenly was not important. I was the girl that was staying home and ignoring the college experience because she didn’t have a pre-paid college fund.
Throughout my college career, I also received a Bright Futures Scholarship and the Angelos Langadas Scholarship. But I did it all on my own. My parents didn’t hold my hand and click the mouse around for me. My parents didn’t even have to say, “Now Markella, you’re going to have to pay for college on your own.” I just knew I had to. There was no money to pay for all my schooling.
I think because of this, I became much more independent, even living under my parents roof. I landed a real-life, big girl job in the real world, with a work ladder ready for me to climb as soon as I graduate in May. I’ve been working since I was 16, which definitely taught me the value of a hard earned dollar and humbled me. I was home to be with my family as my grandma went through terribly hard times in and out of the hospital and to see my brothers grow up into men and my parents in love.
After my brother was diagnosed with epilepsy, I never wanted to burden my parents. I knew they had a lot on their plate and I didn’t want to add another whopping scoop of mash potatoes. I knew it was up to me.
After four years at FAU, I am more proud of myself than I have ever been. It has been a hard four years, but I did it myself. My university didn’t just give it to me. I worked for it. It’s not part of the curriculum to do what I’m doing, which makes it that much sweeter to walk into the studio every morning and smell hazelnut coffee coming from the newsroom. I made it here myself.
The only loan I had to take out was for the summer, when grants or scholarships didn’t apply. And today I paid that loan off with the educational assistance money WPTV gave me for furthering my education.
After I paid my bill over the phone, the representative said to me, “Congratulations on finishing college without any loans!”
And in that moment I knew I made a smart decision.