I’m from central Florida, about an hour from Disney World. I was raised with an understanding that education was going to be a big part of my future. Mom and Dad grew up in Jamaica and Trinidad, respectively, and neither of them, nor their parents, nor their parents’ parents, etc. went to college for a Bachelor’s. At some point before I was born, they decided I would be the first. I grew up with the expectation that my future wouldn’t be like my parents’ past. My mother made learning really fun, and she told me that particular kind of fun was the kind that would make my life easier down the road in terms of independence, empowerment, and financial freedom. So, I went all in. We didn’t know exactly what, but my family and I knew that my goal was to something big, something special with this whole school thing.
I remember my guidance counselor telling me that we’d be getting junk mail from a bunch of colleges, and she warned us not to put too much stock in it. “Like if you get a letter from MIT, for example,” she said. Everyone laughed, including me. When I actually got one, though, it kind of scared me. The first thought I had was, “what if I actually got in? No one would even believe it.”
I remember telling my parents about the “Reach, Match, Safety” school model that we learned about in school, which would help us organize our school applications. When I described MIT as my Reach, Dad interrupted me and asked, “Why are you putting your dream school out of ‘reach’? If you want to go there, and God wants you to go there, you’ll go there. End of story.” This was five years ago.
Now? (There are times when I still can’t believe it, but) I can actually say that I went there. Me! I’m a young woman who once laughed at the idea of being on MIT’s radar, who felt silly even thinking about applying for admission. Those seeds planted way back in 2008, in 2000, in 1989 when I was still in Mom’s belly, and when God was still creating the heavens and Earth … they have grown and produced fruit. Fast forward to June 2012: I was the sole Black woman to graduate with a degree in my field that year. The gratitude, the tears, the elation and the knowledge that I am blessed beyond belief – these are the things that I carry with me everyday after my chapter as an undergraduate at the Institute. But what makes me the proudest is that while I was the first in my family to graduate from college, I can proudly say that I am not the last: after seeing me walk across that stage, my father built on his 2-year degree and is now the proud recipient of a Bachelor’s!
Shamarah is now living in Washington, DC and working as a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. She builds predictive models for clients in the defense sector.
I was born in Albania in a small village of about 50 just as the Cold War ended. I knew nothing about the war or politics though because I was really young at the time. My grandparents grew up as farmers but my parents had more "professional" jobs. My dad was an officer in the army and my mom a nurse in the nearby city. At the age of about 2, my parents decided to move to Greece because the economy in Greece at the time was way better than it was in Albania. When they moved to Greece they left me in Albania with my grandparents. The crazy part is that I have no recollection of this time in history or these events, but every time I look at the few black and white pictures we have from my childhood in Albania life seems so different there.
A few years later after my parents made some money and got stable jobs in Greece they decided to convince my grandparents to move to Greece with them. After moving to Greece I attended 1st and half of 2nd grade, and then my parents along with my uncles and aunts from my mom's side decided to make the bold move and move to America where there was opportunity for their children to grow up and do something great. As I learned later on in life, I had a great grandfather who migrated to America in the 20s, and left his wife and children behind to make extra money. He then earned his citizenship and moved back to Albania to raise his kids. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be here now.
My childhood memory only goes as far back as the 2nd grade here in America. I went to a bilingual elementary school, the Ohrenberger here in Boston and then attended the Washington Irving Middle School in Roslindale, MA. After taking an entrance exam, I got into the John D. O'Bryant School for Math and Science in Roxbury, Massachusetts. High School is what shaped my interests and what really helped me get into MIT. When I was a junior in high school the Science Director came to me and a fellow student Bruno and asked if we'd be interested in building robots. Both of us, knowing nothing about robots but interested in learning about them, enthusiastically replied with a "yes" and later found out he was referring to FIRST Robotics. After spending a year in the FIRST Robotics team and meeting Ed Moriarty, who works in Outreach for MIT's Edgerton Center, we learned about MIT and that it was the "best engineering school in the world".
You can guess what happened from there. We both got in, and now we're both here studying Course 2. To be very honest, only recently have I realized how great it is to have the background we as first generation students do. Every time I tell my story to someone it makes them feel like they don't even have a story. The FGP has really helped in me being proud of my history, and has made me realize that a lot, or should I say ALL of the things I've gone through as a first generation student, someone else here at MIT has gone through them as well.