Imagining The Future: 'Howard Project' Students Look Forward A high school teacher, a lawyer, a nurse, a minister: Four college seniors at Howard University in Washington, D.C., describe their career ambitions and how they feel as graduation grows closer.
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Imagining The Future: 'Howard Project' Students Look Forward

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Imagining The Future: 'Howard Project' Students Look Forward

Imagining The Future: 'Howard Project' Students Look Forward

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're now going to take you inside the lives of four college students as they think about their last year in school and what lies ahead. It's our ongoing conversation with four seniors from Howard University here in Washington, D.C. They're working with us to build something new - a different way of exploring questions young people are grappling with, questions that are in some ways very universal and in other ways specific to their own experiences. We're calling it the Howard Project. The last time we heard from Ariel, Taylor, Leighton and Kevin, they talked about who they are and what motivates them. This time, we've asked them straight up how they're feeling about graduating, what challenges and opportunities they anticipate as they map out their careers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: We should point out that the music you hear woven into parts of this story was selected by our Howard students; songs they say provide inspiration for them in this chapter of their lives. So here they are, in their own words. First up, aspiring high school history teacher Ariel Alford.

ARIEL ALFORD: I feel very excited to graduate. I feel excited over the smallest things, like I'm excited to set up my classroom. And I'm excited to meet my students. And actually, last night, I prayed for all of my future students.

LEIGHTON WATSON: Hey, it's Leighton. I feel amazing about graduating - A - in four years, which you look at the national averages is not average anymore, but then also just having the experience of moving on to the next level. The four years that I was in college weren't the four years or period of time that I was looking forward to the most. It's really this next phase of life where it's a bunch of firsts. It's your first time getting a car, first time getting an apartment, first time living truly on your own, paying bills.

KEVIN PETERMAN: Hey, it's Kevin. I am ecstatic to finally be graduating from Howard University. It's been a long four years, four years of some tests and some trials here and there. But at the end of the day, I see that I have grown in so many different ways. I have been able to travel the world. I have been able to learn and really engage in rigorous academia. It's been an awesome journey.

TAYLOR DAVIS: So hi, this is Taylor. And I found out that I wouldn't be graduating over the winter break. And it was really difficult for me because it came initially with a lot of shame, just because it's not something that people would expect of me. So I spent that winter break thankfully at home, away from Howard, away from my peers, alone and alone with God, and it really allowed me to re-center myself. And I can see how God has allowed, you know, certain circumstances that seem negative on the surface, I see how He's going to allow this to greatly benefit me in the long run. So it's really put me in a place where I can experience true contentment and joy regardless of what's going on around me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE MY HAND")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Take my hand. Lead me on. Help me stand.

MARTIN: Each of these students has chosen a different career path. Taylor wants to be a nurse, Ariel a teacher, Leighton a lawyer, and Kevin wants to be a minister. We asked them to reflect on how they see themselves fitting in to their respective career fields. Here's Kevin.

PETERMAN: So African-Americans, if there's anything that we've excelled in and if there's any institution that has truly kept out community together, it is our religious tradition. And it's all about expanding that. I truly want to be the future of this concept of the black church, this concept of theology that liberates.

MARTIN: Taylor told us she expects to have to work harder than her future co-workers to prove she belongs.

DAVIS: Because there's always going to be this question of your competence and because, you know, intellect is really - especially in America - is really associating with whiteness. And if you don't have that, then you are assumed to not be as intelligent. And it's drilled in you as an African-American from, like, childhood until you finish your education. It's drilled in you that you have to work twice as hard to get half as far. And we kind of internalize this ideology that we have to grind our fingers to the bone and in some ways disassociate ourselves from our blackness to obtain success. And I have really gotten to a point in life where I'm - I ask, why?

MARTIN: Leighton has a very clear idea about why the law is a good fit for him and who he plans to serve.

WATSON: When I look at cases and trials like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and different things like that, those cases make me want to go into the legal field because I know - well, I would like to know that I could help represent those sort of people where they maybe can't hire the best legal counsel and maybe don't have the money for the best legal counsel. And I would like to be the person to get that call.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And what about role models? We asked these students who they look up to, who's living the kind of life they want to emulate. Here's Kevin.

PETERMAN: My grandmother, who was the greatest inspiration, the smartest person I knew who never walked into a college but was indeed probably the smartest person I ever met. My mother, who has been such a support to me, her love just inspires me to continue to want to do something to make her proud.

WATSON: Yeah, hey, this is Leighton. And my role model in my life always been, luckily, my father and his father. Unfortunately, a lot of people - not just in an African-American community but in a broader community where divorce rates are over 40 percent - a lot of people don't have the luxury of saying that their father is their role model. He's working a job where he gets a nice salary. He has a nice - we have a nice house. There's nothing that we ever wanted for. There are things that we wanted but didn't get.

MARTIN: Each of the students also talked about their expectations for the future, where they want to be in 10 years.

PETERMAN: In 10 years, I hope to have a Ph.D. by then. I hope to be, soon, either married or getting ready to get married.

WATSON: It's having a family that's very, very important.

DAVIS: I think it's safe to assume that most women want to be married by 30.

ALFORD: I want to be happy. I want to be spiritually centered and grounded. I want to have read a lot more books than I've read now. Ideally, by 32, it would be cool if I was married and had a few kids. I mean, I want a lot of kids. I want a big family. I'll probably still be teaching. Who knows? I may be on the school board or I may be trying to run for office or working for the UN. I don't know - something.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEART BEATS")

JOHNNYSWIM: (Singing) I'm just a girl from dust I came and I'll return, so please don't spare your mercy. I need your love at every turn. I feel it when my heart beats, every time my heart beats.

MARTIN: Taylor ended up taking the question a step further, imagining herself years from now as a mother and what advice she'd give her own kids about setting their career expectations.

DAVIS: Whatever they desire, they can accomplish it. So that should be what we teach our children: not to continue to bring up this cycle of inferiority that we've been taught since our ancestors were brought to his land enslaved. Like, we - girl, I'm over that narrative. It's done in my opinion.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEART BEATS")

JOHNNYSWIM: (Singing) Fan the flame and walk on the water. I've got heaven locked up in these bones. Oh, I feel it when my heart beats, every time my heart beats.

MARTIN: That's Taylor Davis, Ariel Alford, Leighton Watson and Kevin Peterman - college students at Howard University in Washington, D.C. thinking about the world they are about to step into and how to shape their place in it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEART BEATS")

JOHNNYSWIM: (Singing) Every time my heart beats. I feel it when my heart beats. Every time my heart beats.

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