Started from the Bottom: JSU Freshman Overcomes Hardship, Becomes Gates Scholar

Last Updated on September 6, 2015

Jackson State University freshman biology major Adrienna Williams,
Overcoming hardships, JSU freshman biology major Adrienna Williams, a Yazoo native, plans to become a physician. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)
Tears flowed from Adrienna Williams after learning she was selected as a Gates scholar and more recently while explaining that her then-single mother once worried whether she did enough as a parent for her children in their poverty-stricken Yazoo community.

Williams, a Jackson State University freshman biology major with ambitions of becoming a physician, candidly discussed economic hardships, including growing up in Section 8 housing. Despite some tough times, she graduated No. 2 this spring from Yazoo City High School to become among 1,000 Gates Millennium Scholars out of more than 57,000 students nationwide who applied this year.

The program of the United Negro College Fund is financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Given the odds of earning the scholarship, she was stunned, yet humbled, upon receiving the coveted honor.

‘I’m just one little person’

“I went to a small high school in a small town.  I’m just one little person in a competitive school. We all wanted to be No. 1. I thought others were better because I stutter sometimes. Despite that, my mentors encouraged me to apply. The process was very involved. I had to write eight essays on a designated topic. But, not only that, I also had a job.”

With all that was swirling around her, Williams still wanted to continue her education. “But how am I going to pay for school?” she asked herself.

Even with her prayers and those of her pastor, she said her faith wavered.

“My mom was a single parent without a college education. I’m the oldest of three children (she has a brother and sister). I knew what I wanted to do in life but didn’t know how I was going to accomplish it without money. I didn’t have the proper resources to prepare for my journey. I knew that I wanted to be in the healthcare industry to care for people.”

Supportive mentors, friends

Looking back, she credits God for supportive mentors and friends who urged her to apply for the scholarship and for giving her the confidence to share her obstacles with others.

“The day I received the honor I was in my college algebra class. My mom said I had received a package.” She asked her mom not to open it but to tell her whether the package was small or large, figuring a bigger size would be good news. After confirming the weight, she later opened the package, which expressed congratulations. “My mom started crying, and she called everybody; people in my classes were so happy for me. I started crying, too.”

In fact, she said her testimony and community service landed her the distinction of being named a Gates Millennium Scholar, which recognizes Williams as a “leader for America’s future.”

As a recipient, she’s eligible for renewable funds to attend any U.S. accredited college or university. As well, individuals who pursue graduate studies in computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health or science may be eligible for fellowship funding through the master’s and doctoral levels.

For someone with many options, she serendipitously chose JSU after an “impressive tour” from JSU Welcome Center guide Serita Griffith-Washington. “She made a difference,” Williams said.

Fell in love with JSU

“I was going to Ole Miss, but decided against that. I took a tour of Baylor (she didn’t get accepted), but then chose Southern Mississippi. After pondering, I did a random tour of Jackson State. I fell in love with the school, thanks to the tour guide. After seeing the beauty of the campus, I wanted to put my money back into an HBCU. Some relatives wanted me to go elsewhere, but now they’re OK with my decision.

“Furthermore, I didn’t even think about a doctorate degree beforehand, but this scholarship will provide for that. I’m going to medical school. I’m just so thankful now for not having to deal with the burden of college finances.”

Ultimately, Williams says she wants her life experiences to inspire others.

“My family and I did not have much when I was growing up. Still, I would not change anything. My mom’s struggles have drawn us closer. She probably thought she could have done more for us, but she was there. That’s all that matters. Certainly, growing up poor made me appreciate life more. … You’ve got to be thankful for what you have. If something is meant for you, it will happen.”

Her sage message to her peers is one that normally comes from some much older.

“If you think, believe and achieve, you can do it. I’m doing just that,” a tearful Williams said.

Source: Jackson State University Newsroom

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