Pursuit of Perseverance with Student Assistant Niadiquay
May 1, 2019 | Sophia Ramos, IAH Communications Specialist
“Wow, where do I begin? I am feeling a lot of things. Mostly though, I am feeling an immense amount of gratitude. Considering my journey up until this very moment, I must acknowledge how rare my outcome has been,” said Niadiquay Everette, a graduating senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Niadiquay has been a part of the Institute’s staff for nearly four years as a work-study events assistant. Currently studying abroad in South Africa, she reflects on her time at Carolina before graduating this spring semester.
A Durham native, Niadiquay was no stranger to UNC, growing up just down the road with her mother and four younger brothers. In fact, her family ties to Durham traces back generations, with almost the entirety of her family living in this place their whole lives. Niadiquay was a pillar in her family. She frequently stepped up to support her mother, a single parent trying to raise five children. Her four brothers served as the motivation for Niadiquay to succeed in anything she pursued.
This created an unwavering dedication to school and sports. Her interests and straight-A report cards led her to Student U, a college-readiness organization that supports students in middle through high school. After participating in Student U for five years, Niadiquay became the first in her family to attend college, becoming a Tarheel in the fall of 2015.
Her first year was hectic, unfamiliar, and challenging, with her new-found autonomy requiring some adjustments. It was in this first year at Carolina that Niadiquay received an email from IAH Director of Operations, Tommie Watson. Tommie had recently joined the IAH team after serving as the COO of Student U, where he and Niadiquay knew each other from her time as a student and intern with him. He had been in contact with a former colleague at Student U in order to find some students in needs of work study. When he heard Niadiquay might need a position, he reached out immediately.
“I knew that what we had to offer [the work-study position] might not be perfect for her. But, even more important than that, she would be immersed in a supportive and enriching environment with a great team of staff and faculty that could be a major asset for a student with so much potential,” said Tommie.
Although unfamiliar with the IAH, Niadiquay wanted to continue collaborating with Tommie while in college. So, she applied for the position as an IAH events assistant and began working closely with Event Planner Ebony Johnson. In the setup, break down, and long hours that came with managing events, she and Ebony started to form a bond.
“When I first met her, I did not anticipate the ways in which my relationship with her would change my life,” said Niadiquay.
Pouring into one another is how Ebony describes her relationship with Niadiquay. With a background working in student services, Ebony naturally felt inclined to support and encourage those she came in contact with. But what particularly moved Ebony was that she saw Niadiquay’s determination, work ethic, and spirit of excellence. Ebony wanted to help Niadiquay see that in herself, too.
“Most young people think that the only powerful piece is the mentor, but that’s not true,” said Ebony. “She has also motivated and inspired me to be better. I’m happy she accepted, trusted, and chose me to be a part of her journey.”
While Niadiquay was gaining a mentor and valuable professional experience, outside of Hyde Hall she was still struggling to adjust to the academic rigor required at UNC. She quickly found herself facing expulsion as she tried to manage the demands of assignments, a new environment, and her family. For Niadiquay, this would be a failure bigger than her alone. As a first-generation college student, she felt responsible for being an example to her younger brothers. She was determined to overcome the challenges she faced.
When Ebony heard of Niadiquay’s struggles with school, she connected her with an academic advisor to map out her academic plans. They discovered that sociology best suited Niadiquay’s interests and goals. With perseverance and Ebony’s support, Niadiquay switched her major from pre-med to sociology and found herself on the Dean’s list the following semester.
“If Ebony wasn’t in my life, I’m not sure how this would all play out. She encouraged me and helped me see the greatness that was already within me,” she said.
For the next three years, Niadiquay worked alongside Ebony, Tommie, and the IAH staff while she pursued her sociology degree with a minor in women’s and gender studies. Her sociology coursework ushered in a new love for her: education. She quickly became interested in education equity and hoped to continue this field in graduate school. This fall, she will reach her goal. Niadiquay is proud to attend Johns Hopkins University pursuing a master’s of education. When she imagines her future self, she says she will be an agent of change, working with youth to empower and develop the next generation of leaders.
“I’ve seen her grow into her confidence,” said Ebony. “The expectations she sets for herself, the opportunities she goes after, all show that she knows who she is and that it’s not just an average young woman.”
On May 12th, Niadiquay will walk across the stage at Kenan Memorial Stadium, in front of her friends and family, to become a Carolina alumna.
“The person this university has molded me into looks nothing like the little black girl who arrived on campus in August of 2015,” she said. “This moment is for my family, my friends, and my future students as well. This moment is a testament that chains can be broken. I am excited about what the world has to offer me and what I know I can offer the world.”
For the Institute, Niadiquay’s story shows us the power of support, community, and education. Her work as an undergraduate student inspires us to reach new heights in supporting our Carolina faculty, which in turn will continue to foster students like her.