May 2018, News & Features, Top story

Overcoming obstacles

For many Saint Augustine’s University students who got their degree on May 12, the walk across the stage was the last leg of a difficult journey. Many had to overcome significant obstacles. In In this article, we take a look at some students whose path to graduation has not been easy.

It took five decades but she finally returned

Geraldine Hampton enrolled at Saint Augustine’s University in 1962 and attended for two years before leaving because personal matters required that she move to Virginia.

She went on to have a successful career working in customer service at a department store, but Ms. Hampton never forgot about Saint Augustine’s University. In fact, she participated in SAU’s alumni association along with her husband, who graduated from Saint Augustine’s in 1965. Ms. Hampton’s daughter also graduated from SAU in the 1980s.

Even though she did not have a degree herself, Ms. Hampton encouraged others to become Falcons. “About five students I worked with went on to attend and finish college at Saint Augustine’s University,” Ms. Hampton said.

Her family never gave up hope that she would one day finish get her own degree. “They’re very dedicated to Saint Augustine’s University,” Ms. Hampton explained. “It’s just a family thing.”

During a visit with her aunt, who was a part of the first graduating class to complete school in the nursing program at St. Agnes when that was part of Saint Augustine’s, Ms. Hampton found herself in a conversation about returning to SAU.

“My aunt is 103 years old, and she asked me when was I going to finish college and return to Saint Augustine’s University,” Hampton said. That conversation finally gave Ms. Hampton motivation to do what she had been wanting to do for a long time.

Ms. Hampton spoke to an SAU recruiter who came to the senior citizen center where she regularly went for exercise. The recruiter talked to her about returning to the university in the Extended Studies program for adult learners. Ms. Hampton applied and, a few weeks later, she called the admissions office and discovered that she was accepted to the university.

Ms. Hampton, 74, will be among the graduates taking part in Saint Augustine’s University’s commencement in 2018 – 56 years after her freshman year.

Ms. Hampton enjoyed her time at SAU the second time around. She holds the title of Miss Extended Studies, and she had her very own float during SAU’s 2017 Homecoming Parade.

“When I found out about being elected for Miss Extended Studies, I was speechless,” she said. “I had the opportunity to be interviewed for television and enjoy the celebration with my friends and family greeting me during the parade.” Ms. Hampton said she especially liked doing her pageant-like wave.

The organizational management degree Ms. Hampton will finally get won’t help her much professionally – she has been retired for 6 years. She just did it for the love of learning.

Asked what advice she had for younger students, Ms. Hampton said, “Learn all that you can.”

— Jazmin Powell

A child pulled him away — and brought him back

It takes most students four years to get a college degree, but it took Cameron Philyaw almost twice that long. After three years at Saint Augustine’s University, Philyaw found himself facing problems that he could not solve.

The first problem was financial. The visual arts major from Greensboro, N.C., had come to Saint Augustine’s University on a track scholarship. But an unexpected development kept him from competing on the track team: His girlfriend gave birth to a son.

Without the track scholarship, Philyaw could not afford the tuition. But even if Philyaw and his family could come up with the tuition money, he didn’t want to continue his studies with a baby to care for.

“That was the main reason I left school,” Philyaw explained. “I felt that my time was needed taking care of him and spending time with him to help him grow.”

Philyaw spent three years working as a substitute teacher. But he was determined to get his college degree. He was able to get a football scholarship and return. He is a defensive back on the team.

His motivation for coming back was the same motivation he had for leaving – his child. “I wanted to set an example for my son,” he said.

Philyaw admits that he originally chose Saint Augustine’s because a he could not get a scholarship to a Division 1 university. But he has come to appreciate what Saint Augustine’s has to offer.

“It’s a great school if you’re looking for a small classroom size and environment,” he said.

Philyaw has found a home in the Visual Arts Department. “My passion for art comes from my competitive nature more than anything else,” he said. Philyaw wants to be good in everything he does, he said.

His relationship with visual arts instructors Virginia Tyler and Linda Dallas are “complicated,” he said. “It’s like a parent type of thing — sometimes you love them, other times you’re annoyed by them,” Philyaw said. “But at the end of the day I wouldn’t change it because they’re always supporting me.

He was successful in his art endeavors, however. On May 4, Philyaw had an exhibition of his art in the Seby Jones Art Gallery.

Philyaw was supposed to get his degree three years ago but when he walks across the stage on May 12, 2018, he will be just as happy as any graduate. His plan after graduation is to move back to Greensboro to get his master’s degree in counseling at North Carolina A&T University.

— Sterling Raynor

He felt the need to help his family carry the burden

Jolly Black’s parents are not poor but they are not rich. His mother works for an insurance company and his father works for the U.S. Postal Service. They live in Waterbury, Connecticut, where the cost of living is very high.

So by his senior year, Black began to feel guilty about how much money it was costing his parents for him to get an education.

“I felt bad once I realized how much money was going into school,” he said. “We were unable to afford any more loans. I didn’t want to take out any more loans. I decided it was time to take off from school and work so I could get my money to help pay for school.”

Black returned to Waterbury and found work with with New Opportunities, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for economically disadvantaged individuals by providing the necessary resources to increase their standard of living, foster self-improvement, and maximize self-empowerment.

The work was an internship but it was a paid internship and it paid pretty well — $16 an hour.

“I just saved up every dime that I had and took that money to use for school, and I was able to come up with enough money to come back.”

Black said he still got support from his parents but he was able to help carry the load. “I was able to bring something to the table,” he said.

He is majoring in business administration and will get his degree May 12. Black intends to return to work after graduation and work for New Opportunities.

The financial problems were a difficult time in his life, but he said he never doubted that he would come back to Saint Augustine’s University.

“I was so close to the end that I just felt like I didn’t want to give up,” he said.

Black’s parents will travel from Connecticut to be there for their son’s graduation.

— Elyscia Vaughn Brown

A big fire and a split family did not push him off track

On the surface, Quann Vann appears to be your average HBCU student. He is a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He was elected Mister SAU.

Yet when you ask him about the obstacles he had to overcome to graduate, as layer upon layer is uncovered a life with truly difficult problems is revealed.

Vann was raised by a single mother and his biological faotehr ahd 12 other children. “I don’t have a real relationship with him,” he said.

Vann did have a father figure in his life – his stepdad — lead an ordinary life growing up in the small town of Salisbury, North Carolina. But when his stepfather left his mother, he had to move in with his grandmother.

Vann does not remember these times fondly. “It was my high school years,” he said. “I was supposed to be having fun. Instead I had to grow up fast…and I did not like it.”

His became estranged from his mother. As this was going on, his grandmother’s physical and mental health deteriorated, often forcing the pair out of her home. Eventually, Vann moved in with his godparents until college.

“I applied to college not because I wanted to but to prove a point,” Vann said. He wanted to show his mother that he did not need for her anything, he said. “I remember coming up here and filling out all of the applications myself, FAFSA, the applications, you name it I did it, all just to spite her.”

To his surprise, Vann was accepted into Saint Augustine’s, although on a probationary status. Vann began to immerse into the campus culture. He made friend and formed bonds with faculty, who gave him the help he needed to succeed.

Vann was succeeding beyond his expectations but one Spring Break in his sophomore year changed his world. He was spending the break with his girlfriend at East Carolina University when he got several disturbing phone calls. “My family was calling me and cussing me out, asking me if I knew what was going on.” He found put his mother had been in a hospital intensive care unit for a after congestive heart failure.

She recovered – and their relationship recovered as well. “My mom and I used to have constant falling outs, but after her stay in he hospital it really brought us together,” Vann said.

But Vann’s troubles were not over. In his junior year, a fire erupted at his godparents home, the home where he had stayed since high school. His family, who assumed he was in the house, feared the worst, but luckily Vann was at another house, where he thrown a party and decided to spend the night. If it wasn’t for the party, Vann said, he might not be here today.

He realizes that he is lucky to have gotten through all his trouble. He is thankful to everyone at Saint Augustine’s, particularly his fraternity brothers, who he said helped him reach his goals.

Asked what got him through hard times, Vann responded: “Faith, luck, and being able to ignore the pain and push through.”

— Elyscia Vaughn Brown