As my time here at the University of Memphis winds down, I cannot help but think how far I have come as a person during my time at this university. It has been one long and strenuous journey, but I would not change it one bit.
As a native of Orange Mound, one of the most notorious neighborhoods in the city, college was a small possibility growing up as a child. I had no desire to go, and to be honest, I did not believe I could go. One person who did believe in my potential was my childhood friend Morris Sheppard, whom I affectionately called “Junebug.”
Junebug and I were like brothers. We did everything together — rode bikes, played sports and skipped class. I think he and I clicked because of the similar upbringings we had. We also recognized each other’s talents. His was on the football field, and mine, as he once said, was with the “pen and pad.” He saw I had a talent for writing and always told me I could go somewhere with it.
After our middle school graduation, he told me we were both going to end up at the U of M. He was going to play football, and I was going to be the next big sports writer. At least, that’s what he kept saying.
Time passed, and we remained friends throughout high school. Then, it happened. On Christmas Eve in 2011, I received the news that Junebug passed away from a fatal gunshot wound at the age of 16. It was one of the worst days of my life. I felt a mix of emotions: anger at the man who pulled the trigger, anger at myself for not telling him not to go out that fateful night and anger at Junebug for leaving me when I needed him most.
That period of time following his passing was a rut, but I told myself I would follow up on his word after our graduation. I will find my way to the U of M.
Looking back, I guess you could say Junebug was right. I will end up graduating with a degree in journalism, and I was the sports editor at the campus newspaper. I have also interned with the biggest news publication in the city of Memphis, The Commercial Appeal. The people I have met during my time in school are more incredible the more I reflect, from my mentors Candy Justice and Bob Willis to rap stars like Yo Gotti. None of this would have been possible if a skinny kid from Orange Mound did not give me that belief.
As I walk across the stage on May 5, all the hard work I have put in these past few years will have officially been paid off. I just hope Junebug is proud of me. We made it.