Summer 2016 TWC alum Tevin Ali shares his story, including the challenges he overcame as a first-generation college student, and the important role that TWC played in his journey.
I struggled as a first generation college student because I didn’t know how to navigate college life. And I eventually ended up losing my scholarship and dropped out of college. The moment before I withdrew, I met with one of my professors; he told me I wasn’t doing well in his class, that I had the lowest grade in his course. He told me I wasn’t fit for college and that I should drop out immediately. It was definitely the lowest point in my life. I felt like I was such a disappointment not only to myself, but to my family.
I was originally born in Trinidad and Tobago, and immigrated here after my grandma, mom, and dad brought me here to obtain a quality education in the United States. My dad started off as a janitor and worked his way up to property manager. My mom and my grandma worked at supermarkets like Walmart and Publix.
One of the turning points for the decision for me to go back to school was when I accompanied my dad to work one day. One of his roles as a property manager is to be a janitor. I was helping him out picking up trash around the building, and he came up to me and grabbed my hand as I was picking up a piece of trash. He sternly looked me in the eye and he told me, “I don’t want to see you picking up trash in the hot sun like I had to do for the majority of my life. I want you to make the decision: do you want to work hard for four years of your life or forty years of your life.” That was really a turning point and it instilled in me that when we do hit our lowest points, we are open to the greatest change.
After dropping out of college, and my GPA as it was, I decided to start back at square one at a community college and graduated with my A.S. in biotechnology. That transitioned into an internship to be a cancer researcher at the Scripps Research Institute. I continued my education with a Bachelors of Science in biotechnology at Florida Atlantic University.
After finding out about The Washington Center through a recruiter named Ashley, I was so excited about the program when I heard about it. Being a first generation college student, when I told my parents about the program they were really skeptical at first. When I said I’ll just apply and see what happens, after that everything turned into a snowball effect of good fortune in terms of scholarships and my parents really approved of it.
The opportunity - and the value of the opportunity - presented to me was greater than just staying home and doing a summer job for a semester or taking another course. Because I left my comfort zone and immersed myself in a new environment, I really expanded my knowledge. I learned about diversity and inclusion, what it is about living in a city. The value of that is priceless.
The opportunities of lifelong connections is definitely something this experience has granted to me. I still maintain the contacts from my roommates, my fellow peers from The Washington Center, and even my internship site.
I gave the commencement address at the 2016 Washington Center commencement for the summer and that really stepped me into the light of public speaking. That was a skill I would have never realized that I had if unless I stepped into this program and I’ve pursued that ever since.
This experience really gave me the confidence needed to believe in myself and make me see that I can be a somebody despite my background and despite being a first generation college student. From the lows I experienced from being a low-income immigrant to college dropout to college graduate to state of Florida student of the year to national scholarship recipient to now a masters degree candidate at Johns Hopkins University.
The confidence that the Washington Center and this experience instilled in me really is priceless and I couldn’t be more grateful.