RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Look up. There's probably one sitting across from you in the coffee shop or on the bus right now - one of this country's legions of college seniors. If they look a little worried, it's because they are facing one of the most important transitions of their lives.
In a matter of months, they're about to launch from the somewhat protected confines of college into the so-called real world where they have to find a sense of purpose, not to mention a paycheck.
It's not hyperbole to say that decisions they make now will indeed shape the rest of their lives. We wanted to tap into the challenges and preoccupations facing our 2015 seniors. So we're going to follow four people - two guys, two girls from Howard University right here in Washington, D.C., just a couple miles from NPR headquarters. They've agreed to give us a window into the questions they're grappling with as they think about their future.
To do that, we have asked them to keep an audio diary over the next few months. We asked each one to introduce themselves in whatever they wanted. First up, Taylor Davis. She's from Memphis, Tenn., and she's studying nursing.
TAYLOR DAVIS: The first way I would described myself is I'm a person of faith. I really value my convictions and my connection to God and my connection to people.
LEIGHTON WATSON: My name is Leighton Watson. I'm a senior English major from Grand Rapids, Mich. And I'm someone who is very, very much motivated by legacy. My grandfather Alonzo Watson started his own Housing Authority in South Bend. And not just that, he actually started his own college campus on the Housing Authority. And so when I see that history of public service, I want to emulate that and do that in my own way.
MARTIN: Ariel Alford is our third voice. She's from Richmond, Va., and is getting her degree in history and Africana studies.
ARIEL ALFORD: I would describe myself - passionate, definitely. I would say spiritual. I would say sensual. You can tell by my voice. (Laughter) Wow, and I would say rebellious, honestly.
MARTIN: Last up, Kevin Peterman. He's been immersed in political science and education studies. And he's originally from Newark, N.J.
KEVIN PETERMAN: Well, I think I'm you're average 22-year-old, undergraduate, African-American living in America. I'm doing everything I can to prepare myself to make my impact on the world.
MARTIN: We asked each of our students if they had any experience keeping a diary of sorts. Here's Taylor.
DAVIS: I have been keeping a diary since maybe fifth grade. I really love the idea of self-reflection and having the opportunity to look back at my former self, compare it to today and see how much I've grown or see how much I've learned.
MARTIN: When we asked Ariel this question, she told us a story.
ALFORD: They used to have this test in PE that you would have to take. And then they would send a letter home to your parents if they were concerned that you were, like, unhealthy. And I didn't have any health issues, but I had big hips, and I had large breasts, and I would always get this letter faithfully every year. And I remember, I wrote an entry in my diary, and I was, like, it's really odd that I feel like I'm being measured by Eurocentric standards every time I'm in PE class. So yeah, I used to think that it was childish, but looking back on those middle school entries, I was a lot more aware than I even knew I was.
MARTIN: Kevin hasn't kept a diary or a journal, but he does write when an inspiration strikes.
PETERMAN: I love history so I love to, like, record little historical facts that I may find along the way or different quotes that really speak to me or encourage me. So that's about as close to a diary as I have.
MARTIN: It's all new to our English major, Leighton. He's had his reasons.
WATSON: I always thought diaries were the best way of getting caught up because you write every single thing down that you don't want people to see. I was always nervous that my parents would come into my room and take it anyway. So I never kept a diary so I'm excited about this one.
MARTIN: We asked all four of our Howard University students what recent events had pulled the world they're about to enter into sharpest focus. All pointed to last summer's riots in Missouri. Here's Taylor.
DAVIS: Ferguson really encompasses the disregard - the blatant disregard for black life that this country has had since its inception. And it's made me realize that, quite frankly, the world I'm going to enter does not value my life or those of my people. And it makes me realize that I have a responsibility, a duty even to uplift the consciousness of my people and remind us of our true selves.
You know, I think it's really said that we still feel the need to prove our humanity to other people. And I would hope that my children or their children will be in a space where they understand their value and that the people around them understand that value. And even if people around them don't, as long as we know, you know, as long as we have this affirming idea of who we are, you know, that will be enough.
MARTIN: Kevin also feels events in Ferguson and beyond have brought a new sense of responsibility.
PETERMAN: So in this past year, this being my senior year at Howard has definitely been a year truly discerning who I am and what's next for me. So when I look at current events, and I see things, you know, the biggest thing in recent months has been the whole black lives matter movement and what that actually has unfolded to be in terms of police brutality and the lack of indictments in the Mike Brown case as well as the Eric Garner case. Those have really heavily impressed upon me an urgency to commit myself in whatever field I enter to always uphold principles and values that support and promote equality, justice and social activism.
MARTIN: An introduction to the four college seniors whose lives we are helping chronicle over the next few weeks. We've called it the Howard Project, and you can find photos and more about Taylor, Kevin, Ariel and Leighton at npr.org/weekendeditionsunday.
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