BY PHILIP WILKERSON, CONTRIBUTOR
As I stated in this LinkedIn post, it can be daunting living up to the legacy and expectations of accomplished parents. We often focus on the First Generation of Black and brown students (rightfully so), but what about those Black and brown students who are 3rd or 4th generation college educated? Those students come from a lineage of highly educated and accomplished ancestors (#BlackExcellence personalities). I was one of those students. Since the day I was born, it was assumed I would go to college and “make” something of myself.
I grew up privileged as my mom is a physician, and my father served 30 years in the US Army (retiring as a Colonel). My father was also a pioneer as he was one of the first Black students to attend and graduate from the Virginia Military Institute in 1972.
During Black History month, I reflect on my immediate family and the #BlackExcellence in my lineage. My grandfather was a physician who served the Charlotte, NC community. I have aunts and uncles succeeding in all kinds of industries. Even in the field of education, I have exemplary models. My uncle and his wife have a building named after them at UNC Asheville for their commitment to the university as professors in English and Chemistry.
“How do I measure up? What can my impact be?”
I had a lot of potential growing up, but I didn’t have spectacular high school or undergraduate grades. I was the quintessential underachiever, doing just enough to get by. So, what changed? It changed when I got to George Mason University back in 2009 as a graduate student. For the first time, I got a glimpse at my purpose. I did my graduate internship on campus at Mason Career Services, and it was there that I decided I wanted to be an educator and to work on a college campus. Fast forward to 2017, and I had started working at Mason full-time in the very same office I was an intern.
Being employed at Mason helped me clarify my purpose. Not only did I want to be an educator, but I wanted to have an impact within a community! I was connected to my profession and committed to my community.
Now, I felt responsible for the students who reminded me of myself. In 2019, two groups asked me to be their advisor, connecting me directly with Black students. Those groups were the GMU NAACP and the Iota Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated.
I still remember students Shelby Adams and Dominique Dowling coming to my office to ask me to advise them and thinking, “they must have confused me for someone else.” Advising these Black student leaders made me a better person. If I was going to help, I had to help myself and grow. If I wanted to advise others on leadership, I had to learn leadership myself.
Fast forward to the present day, and I have mentored countless students since 2019. My student mentees have become SGA presidents and interns at the White House, as well as alumni working for top companies/organizations like Capital One, Deloitte and the U.S. military. Now I know my purpose and contribution to my legacy. I am a leader who develops other leaders who will go out into the world and change it. I always tell my students how proud I am and how they are my legacy. I often say, “in the book of your life, I would be happy just being a sentence.”
Because of my role at Mason as an impactful educator, I, too, am Black History!