Sharing experiences of self-acceptance, homelessness, and testimonies of resilience and perseverance, four remarkable Spelman College seniors will proudly accept their degrees on May 20, 2012, when they walk across the stage at the Georgia International Convention Center.

Mirror, Mirror: A Reflection of Self-Acceptance

Jada Harris can now look in the mirror and love the woman she sees.

But getting to a place of self-acceptance wasn’t always easy for Harris. A once-competitive dancer, Harris developed an eating disorder at the age of 16. Already overweight and diagnosed with Type II diabetes by the time she was 15, Harris yearned for a slimmer body to further her dancing aspirations, and was willing to do whatever it took to get it. Restricting herself to a diet of fruits and vegetables, Harris managed to lose 100 pounds by the time she reached her senior year in high school.

“I didn’t know anything about good nutrition, or how to eat well,” said Harris, a biology major, who hails from Marietta, Ga. “I just knew I didn’t want to feel full again because I equated that with being obese.”

It wasn’t until her sister told her she looked “scary thin” that Harris decided to resume a normal diet. However, instead of eating well-balanced meals, she overate. “I ate all kinds of fatty foods,” said Harris, who had gained back much of the weight she lost by her freshman year at Spelman. “I couldn’t stop the way I was eating – everything was spiraling out of control. I had a breakdown and needed guidance from God.”

During her sophomore year, Harris’ prayers were answered when she learned about Spelman’s wellness program. She began exercising, learned to make healthier food choices, and managed to lose 50 pounds. Uplifted by the wellness program and her Spelman sisters, Harris has since found joy in life and is happy with the woman she’s become.

“Weight is something I still struggle with, but I’m not depressed and I see the brighter side of life,” said Harris, who plans to pursue a post-baccalaureate program and medical school following graduation. “Society places us in this one body type. But I’m not looking to be skinnier or shapelier. I’m striving to be healthy.”

Overcoming Life’s Challenges

Shalita Myrick knows about struggle. The youngest of four children, Myrick, her mom and three older brothers became homeless shortly after her father abandoned the family when she was a young child. Filled with a continuous search for stability, she and her family went from living in homeless shelters to moving in with her grandparents. That all changed when Myrick’s grandmother cashed out her retirement pension to buy a house for Myrick and her family. Myrick was 8 at the time.

Still, Myrick yearned to understand why her young life was filled with so much adversity. She said her Spelman family helped her understand some of those early struggles.

“So many people have been here for me,” said Myrick, an Earlville, N.Y., native, who plans to run a nonprofit focusing on environmental education with her Spelman sister Simone Combs, C’2011, following graduation.  “I’ve learned that stability comes from the positive people in my life, not from my surroundings.”

Faced with other personal and family matters, Myrick took three semesters off as a student to do some soul-searching and to focus on her life. The political science major is now contemplating law school.

“I’ve learned to see my life with no limits,” she said. “Spelman helps route your fears toward the path of creativity and possibility. It’s restored life back into my imagination. Now, I make sure that every day has purpose.”

A Rewarding Testimony

Like Myrick, Raavin Evans, Miss Spelman 2011-2012, has faced her share of adversity. Shortly after her father lost his job when she was seven years old, Evans and her family became homeless. For a while, the family lived in their car, a time when Evans remembers bathing in public restrooms before going to school each morning and eating canned sausages, sardines and canned oysters for meals.

Evans first spoke about her childhood experience during the Miss Spelman pageant, where she detailed her platform, “United We Love: Giving our Hearts to the Homeless.” During a special fundraiser in April, she raised nearly $1,000 to benefit a homeless family in Atlanta.

“I’ve always had to struggle, and I had suppressed it all my life,” said Evans, a political science major who grew up in Dallas. “This is part of my life, it’s made me stronger and I’ve been able to help so many people through my experience.”

Evans also faced tough financial challenges. Unable to pay her tuition balance, she was forced to leave Spelman after her first semester. Determined to return to school, Evans applied for countless scholarships and asked family members for assistance before learning she had been awarded two UNCF scholarships.

“I remember my mom dropping to her knees and thanking God,” said Evans, who plans to teach middle-school math and science in Atlanta through Teach For America before pursuing a master’s degree in education and attending law school. Eventually she wants to start a non-profit for homeless youth who’ve aged out of the foster care system. “Every year since then, things have worked out, and I have witnessed God’s miracles every single day in my life. I’m grateful for what I’ve been through because I meet people along the way I can talk to and inspire.”

Despite the challenges, Evans said she would not change her experience at Spelman. “My journey has definitely been tough, but rewarding. I had this picture-perfect image about college. I thought it was going to be easy. But this has given me a testimony.”

A Journey Paved With Perseverance and Determination

Jamilah Pitts’ road to graduation is paved with perseverance and determination. Despite receiving a full scholarship to Ohio State University, Pitts chose Spelman. An English major, Pitts says Spelman became her “dream school” as a young child. “I loved the service aspect, the academic rigor, and how the College cultivates women leaders,” said the Columbus, Ohio, native. “I knew Spelman was the place for me.”

Pitts’ dream of completing her Spelman journey was tested during her sophomore year when she could no longer pay her tuition. Even though she received scholarships, took out student loans and received support from Sisters Chapel, the funding still wasn’t enough. Already saddled with mounting debt, Pitts often worried how she would afford to pay for graduate school. Despite her concerns, Pitts found time to serve as arts ministry coordinator for Sisters Chapel, She also served on the Miss Spelman College advisory board, Junior Class Council, Spelman College Glee Club, Esther’s Circle, Movements of Praise, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Alpha Lambda Delta honor society, and the Spelman College Social Justice Fellows program. In 2011, she ran for the title of Miss Spelman College.

Her prayers were answered when she received a $30,000 Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellowship for Aspiring Teachers of Color to attend Boston College to complete a master’s degree in education. In addition to the scholarship, she received a $20,000 stipend from Bank of America. Along with the fellowship and stipend, 75 percent of her tuition is covered. Following graduate school, Pitts will spend three years teaching in an urban setting.

“To get this type of funding is really a testament to God,” she said. “The obstacle was great, but some things you can’t pay for. All of the experiences I’ve had at Spelman are priceless. I was able to travel to Jordan, China and South Africa and participate in so many wonderful experiences. Most people didn’t think I would stay at Spelman, but I did. Now, everything has come full circle.” – Alicia Lurry is senior communications specialist and editor of the Spelman Connection for the Office of Communications.