Venus's graduation photoOn May 17, 2014, I received my Masters in Fine Arts degree in English and Creative Writing from Mills College with a 4.0 G.P.A. Let’s just say, I went out like a woman who soars.  I completed six projects including a thesis. Special thanks to Professor Elmaz Abinader, my thesis director, who graciously said my recent poetry collection on collective healing is as “intricate as a ming vase.”  I was also rewarded Honorable Mention for my Creative Non-Fiction thanks to some guidance from Professor Patricia Powell.

It was a pleasure working with my Open Mic co-host Olivia Mertz. Three other notable mentions are Truong Tran, who urged me to submit more work to publishers; Ajuan Mance, who let me borrow her books; and Judith Bishop, who accepted me as her TA for Intro to Women’s Studies.

Graduate Leader of the YearAll my campus and community work landed me a certificate for Graduate Leader of the Year, thanks to a nomination from my honorary advisor LaLane Coaxum. There’s a lot to smile about.  I also want to publicly thank my fellow toastmaster Neveen Acero, who encouraged and nominated me to speak at Commencement. Ms. Acero is one of the reasons I was selected to speak at the Baccalaureate Ceremony.

Shout out to Stephen Jones, my best friend and camera man, and Meagan Susman, who was the first to jump up and give me some relief. I really thought I was going to faint if I didn’t get a swig of water but from the video you can’t tell. I got really nervous and my throat got extra dry.

My shero Maya Angelou would have stood there and quoted the title of one of her poetry collection and said, “Just give me a cool drink of water  ‘fore I diiie.”

Most experienced runners can sense when the competition wants to do more than win. We can sense when they want to see us stumble and fall. If and when we do, we could wallow in the pain of their laughter or use it as fuel and adrenaline.  I’ve often used their elation as my determination, as well. It’s been challenging year for African Americans, who were exposed to plantation politics and racist comments by Donald Sterling and recently I had to directly deal with insensitive comments in my own backyard that led to a silent protest, reminiscent of Oakland in the 1960’s. Click the link below to see some of my former classmates pictured in the demonstration.

Let’s just say after all of this racial drama, I had to practice discernment in my effort to find refuge. The world has a lot of critics in every size, shape and shade, who are proud bullies. That’s why we could use more upstanding folks who encourage people in this life versus bystanders who could care less who’s being hurt. You never know what people are going through. You might laugh at a joke one day and break down in tears at the same thing tomorrow.

Maybe you have an inner critic telling you to compare yourself to others, or there is a voice that says you are not good enough. We must ignore that voice and shift our focus to the finish line. Henry Ford once said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you notice when you take your eyes off your goal.”

How do I win despite every ism? I keep my mind on my goals. It’s been over a week since my graduation, and I’m uncertain of my next major move or commitment. What I know for sure is, I will look for the joy in this journey, no matter what, given my path is paved, and I will continue to thank the divine and my ancestors for that.