As to not assume that you are familiar with me, it is likely a good idea that I take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Corris Davis, (’98 BS Biological Science , ‘19 Masters of Public Policy), and I am the Director of UMBC’s Office of Academic Opportunity Programs (AOP). AOP houses programs at UMBC such as the First-Gen Network, the LSAMP Program and the McNair Scholars Program that support students who are underrepresented in higher education to achieve their goals. But more importantly, I am a first-generation college grad. The goal of this message each month is to offer words of encouragement, food for thought, and resources for your success. In recognition of Black History Month, I’d like to tell you about a local history maker whose life resonates with me.
The late Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, son of South Carolina sharecroppers, who relocated to Baltimore to raise their family, often recounted the experiences of his life that shaped him. Educated in Baltimore City Public Schools, he was initially tracked into a Special Education curriculum. Ultimately, he graduated with honors from Baltimore City College, was initiated into Phi Beta Kappa at Howard University and earned a law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law. In his early years of politics, he was elected as the first Black Speaker Pro Tempore in the Maryland House of Delegates, a position now held by UMBC Alumna and MD State Delegate Adrienne Jones, ‘76.
It was in his early years that he began to transform his pain to his passion, which became his purpose. He saw his purpose as one of public service. He started in a law career, but after 19 years of practicing law, was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates and ultimately, the US House of Representatives. We each will have experiences which shape our path, and trials we’ve already blazed to reach our current place.
A doctor once told me that pain is one method your body uses to let you know you need a change. For example, for those without nerve challenges, a pebble in your shoe would precipitate a chain of events that culminates in the investigation of the source of the pain and typically, dumping the pebble from your shoe.
While the doctor was speaking of the physical pain that tells you to adjust your physical position, this adage has other applications. Situations that cause physical and/or mental pain call for change. I often hear stories of students choosing a major or a career path because of a life experience that irrevocably changed them, for better or worse. Why do you do what you do? What’s your catalyst?
What is your passion? For me, the pain of seeing others not have the same educational opportunities I had experienced drove me to a career in higher education. I am passionate about educational access and opportunity for all students. Like me, you may not find your passion in the classroom, but know that the lessons you are learning both in and out of the classroom are shaping and building the toolbox you will use to address your passion. Know that over your life, what you are passionate about may change, but I implore you to examine what pursuits make you happiest and find ways to incorporate them into your life. In an interview with 60 minutes in 2019, Congressman Cummings paraphrased Voltaire in saying “You must cultivate your own garden”. But once your garden is cultivated, what will you do for others?
And finally, from that which you are most passionate about, your purpose can arise. Purpose is our why. Some of us have already found our purpose and move toward it everyday. Some of us are still discovering our purpose and that’s ok. What things that make you happy can benefit you and our world? How will you make your mark?
The late Cicely Tyson was recently interviewed and asked a simple question: “When the time comes, what do you want us to remember about you?” Her response: “I done my best...that's all.” How will you do your best? What support do you need?
The First-Gen Network is here to support you in finding resources to help you do your absolute best. A list of UMBC Faculty and Staff who were First-Generation College Students and are eager to assist you in your journey at UMBC can be found on the First-Gen website. There are faculty from various colleges and staff from various divisions and offices.