(Editor’s Note: As Commencement nears, WVUToday is featuring some of the University’s most dedicated graduates. Here is the story of one of those students.)
Growing up in a broken home doesn’t necessarily equate to broken aspirations.
For some folks, like graduating Honors College student Stephen Scott, struggle leads to empowerment.
Scott and about 4,500 other students will receive their degrees Friday, Saturday and Sunday as West Virginia University brings another academic year to a close.
While in elementary school, Scott, of Shepherdstown, took it hard when his father left one day. Though he separated from Scott’s mother, there was never an official, legal divorce.
“It doesn’t upset me to talk about it,” Scott said. “I recognize other people have those experiences, too. Everybody has a story. People must be comfortable enough to figure out their narrative and what it means for their future.”
Later in his teen years, it would dawn on Scott that legal expertise and resources may have helped smooth the ride of a single-parent household. Right then (and from being an avid watcher of Judge Judy and Judge Joe Brown), Scott decided he’d study law some day.
“My decision to study law was solidified after my parents separated,” he said. “It’s personal and symbolic.”
Scott’s list of accolades and services at WVU these last four years is impressive, to say the least.
He was one of eight students to earn the Order of Augusta, WVU’s most prestigious student honor that recognizes seniors for scholarship, leadership and service.
Scott is also vice president of the Collegiate Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, vice president of the Mountaineer Tutoring Network and a peer leadership instructor in the Honors College. Elected to the Student Government Association Board of Governors for two consecutive years, his platform addressed student well-being through tutoring, retention and initiatives to improve the student success of underrepresented groups.
A black student, Scott never gave much thought into issues such as institutionalized racism and social inequality until joining the NAACP and various campus groups.
“I figured it was time to get involved with the black community,” he said. “I didn’t fully understand what it meant to be black.”
One service and learning trip to Trinidad and Tobago opened his eyes to discrimination that exceeds simple skin color.
“In some countries, colorism ventures into skin tone and how light your skin is,” Scott said.
His newfound assessments made him realize that one surefire solution to the many woes of the world lies in education. However, access to a free, non-discriminatory education is not open for all.
“Poverty, job placement, incarceration – all of these things are linked to education, or a person’s lack of access to education,” Scott said. “I want to allow people from all walks of life to obtain the American Dream. Let’s make sure everyone has the same resources, but let’s not stigmatize them.”
Access to advising and tutoring remains one of Scott’s top platforms. As a certified tutor in the Honors College, he has worked collaboratively with the academic learning centers to produce tutoring initiatives such as the Final Countdown and ACES.
The reasoning behind his passion for tutoring? Someone helped him out when he needed it.
“I remember my first semester here,” Scott said. “President Clements spoke to us and said, ‘Look to the left. Now, look to your right. One of those students won’t be graduating in 2016.’
“I thought, ‘Oh, man.’ That really stuck with me.”
Scott wanted to ensure he’d graduate on time, let alone graduate at all. After receiving low marks in Math 126, he knew he had to polish up his arithmetic.
Aaron Wilt, an English major from Kingwood, gave Scott tutoring sessions and helped bring him out of the pit of ‘Ds’ and ‘Fs.’ Scott passed math with an ‘A.’
“That motivated me to get involved in tutoring,” Scott said, “especially in political science courses because I saw a void there.”
In his second semester, Scott learned about students with learning disabilities and one-on-one collaborative learning techniques. Shortly thereafter, he became certified by the National Tutor Association, which allows him to provide support to a variety of students.
For a career, Scott sees plenty of opportunities. One goal has him working for the Department of Education on the topics of accreditation, accessibility and financial assistance. He can also see himself working as a recruitment and retention specialist, president of land-grant institution or an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Scott credits his experiences at WVU for his intellectual and social development.
“Before I was admitted to WVU, I toured another university in the state,” he said. “I did not feel it there. But at WVU, I was meeting people who were friendly and eager to talk to me. It felt like a community here.
“All 30,000 students are here to get an education. In doing so, we’re also educating ourselves about who we are, who we want to be and how we can impact the state, the country and the world. Education makes you feel like a global citizen. It makes you feel part of a conversation that transcends boundaries and cultural norms.”
Story by Jake Stump
Photos by Brian Persinger
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