These are trying times for Florida A&M University alumni. It's not easy to watch the institution that helped shape you as an adult in the news every day, for every reason but the right one.
While the hazing issue is heartbreaking, it is also difficult to read and watch the criticism of FAMU concerning graduation rates. The truth is, the numbers paint a misleading portrait of our alma mater. Yes, it is easy to be startled to see that only 40 percent of those who enroll in FAMU as freshmen graduate within six years. A deeper look, however, shows that FAMU takes chances on students whom most other four-year universities would not even consider, let alone admit.
While roughly half of FAMU students are those whose standardized test grades and SAT scores would have kept them on the outside of most schools, FAMU accepts the responsibility of giving these students a chance — and nurtures them into adulthood and their careers. To this, I'm a witness. As the first in my family to attend college, I was one of those students whose standardized test grades would have kept me out of most colleges, but FAMU took a chance on me.
It was never a question whether I would attend college, but rather which university I would attend. And as a child of a military family, I was always eager to return to Florida to attend college.
After spending weeks and months researching Florida's top colleges and universities, it became very evident that there was only one school for me — Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, primarily because of its rich heritage and proven record of educating African-Americans. I knew that the variety of options FAMU provided through its school of journalism, school of business and industry and college of education would not only provide a variety of opportunities for success, but would ensure my success.
Still, my road to graduation was everything but traditional. Many times during my journey, I was unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel. With too many bumps, bruises and scrapes to count, I could define my journey as a series of consistent valleys with an occasional mountaintop. However, through the substantial amount of tripping and falling, each time I reached up for a helping hand, Rattlers were there.
When I became hopeless and desperate, when I needed inspiration and encouragement, the love and support of FAMU faculty, staff and alumni stayed me through the strife. When I didn't believe in myself, the faculty, staff and alumni of Florida A&M University believed in me. I believe in FAMU because FAMU first believed in me. While at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, I stood on the shoulders of giants.
I recognize and honor the sacrifices and hardships of the Rattlers who came before me; and to them I'm eternally grateful. It was because of the price they paid that I can now call myself a graduate of the "College of Love and Charity." That is why we must look past the statistics and realize FAMU has been there to help so many students — from straight-A scholars to those who are struggling to get a passing grade, and everyone in between.
As the mother of three young boys, I know it is vital that my children receive a stellar education. It is imperative that my children attend an institution of higher learning where they will not only be known by a nine-digit, government-issued number, but will be known by their names.
I believe in the Scripture that says, "train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." And I have no doubt as to where I would like them to study. I'm training future Rattlers, who will, like their mother, proudly carry the legacy and heritage of "The Hill."
Johnitta T. Wells is a 2006 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism and Graphic Communication. She serves as the conference and operations manager of the Florida Housing Coalition, a statewide nonprofit organization.