Jessica-Gray Crumpley, the Associate Degree Scholar of 2016 at Medgar Evers College, was a busy wife and mother of two young girls when she had an epiphany one night about the urgency of time. “I knew in order to change our means of living, there would have to be a change of lifestyle,” she said in a recent speech at the college’s 45th Annual Academic Awards Ceremony. The change: enrolling in Medgar Evers College in the spring of 2014. Ms. Crumpley is already pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, after becoming a candidate for her Associate of Arts with a concentration in Psychology.
On the other hand, Shanice Coull, the valedictorian of the Medgar Evers College class of 2016, took 10 years to earn her Bachelor of Arts in English. She forged a path balancing work and school for a decade after high school graduation, accomplishing things on a schedule dictated by her needs, she said. Her degree at hand, she is now immersed in the real estate business and plans to earn an MBA next.
Certainly, the most prominent speaker associated with Medgar Evers these days is Donna Brazile, the high-powered Democratic political strategist and keynote speaker at the college’s 45th annual commencement on May 27. Ms. Coull and Ms. Crumpley are also commencement speakers with compelling stories. Their stories touch on things like persistence, the difference between knowledge and learning, and the special qualities of Medgar Evers. Ms. Coull, who also recently received an “Academic Excellence” certificate from the Department of English, will address students at the commencement at Barclays Center.
“I was on my own, I had a lot of jobs,” the 30-year-old Ms. Coull says of her long journey to a degree.” I knew school was important but I wanted to be young, I wanted to live, I wanted to be independent.”
Ms. Coull chose Medgar Evers because of its reputation and its proximity to where she was living at the time. Dr. Brenda Greene, the chairman of the English department, became her mentor and she found other flexible and caring professors. Medgar Evers was also where she delved into eye-opening black history courses and interned at the college’s well-regarded Center for Black Literature, She remains an avid reader, said Ms. Coull, who enjoys real estate because it marries finance with emotional needs for space.
But on the cusp of graduation, Ms. Coull fired off an email to Dr. Greene telling her that she could not enroll this spring because her real estate job at Corcoran Sunshine was from 10 to 6. Three classes she needed were at inconvenient times. Dr. Greene offered independent studies. Her other teachers allowed her to work on-line. Dr. Keming Liu, an English professor, met Ms. Coull every other Wednesday after work to go over what she had missed in her Applied Linguistics class. As she describes it, “I improvised. And the professors improvised.”
While she has not completed her valedictorian speech, “part of what I want to talk about is my journey – persistence and never giving up,” Ms. Coull said.
Ms. Crumpley, 25, also tangled with obstacles. She lives with her daughters, now six and three years old, and her husband Anthony in Crown Heights. She grew up in the Bronx, graduated from high school in Georgia and moved back to New York in 2008. There were joys and challenges in having children young, she said, and saw time passing quickly through her daughters’ eyes.
“I found myself there,” Ms. Crumpley said of Medgar Evers and the revelatory courses in History, Art, and Psychology. “’Being at Medgar, I saw that my current livelihood was not the only thing I could be.” She added: “I’ve learned the difference here between knowledge and education. You know you’re learning when you finish your course and you’re still reading about the subject.”
Her mentors were Dr. Laura Stephens, an adjunct Psychology professor, and Dr. Hollie Jones, a Professor of Psychology on the faculty.
Much of what she has accomplished was for her daughters and nothing could have been done without the help of her husband, Ms. Crumpley said. The president of the Medgar Evers Psychology Club and a creative writer, Ms. Crumpley’s goal is to earn a doctorate in Social Psychology and become a psychologist.
“Because, we’re human,” she said of her career choice. “Every day we’re going to deal with people.”