Whensley Dareus (Class of ’16), Florida State University, Graduated Spring 2020
Major: Sociology with a Minor in Political Science and Environmental Studies
Career Goals: Ultimately, I plan to be a public health policy analyst for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or another public health agency, researching, assessing, and addressing the health issues that plague our society, especially in low-income and underserved communities. Particularly, I want to connect more underserved communities with more healthy and affordable food options. I understand that this mission is not as simple as planting community gardens in every neighborhood, but addressing the political, social, and environmental entities that perpetuate the disparities among profoundly disadvantaged communities. I grew up on 27th Avenue in Miami Gardens where we had many buffets or fast-food restaurants; McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Checkers, and that’s just to name a few. This is no anomaly for impoverished communities but the norm. However, it should not be normal for people to lose their lives to obesity, for mothers to have fatal pregnancies because of inadequate nutrition, or even for families to solely rely on free public-school meals to ensure their kids eat at least once a day. I want to do my part to reverse the trends, so I am currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Health at Georgia State University with a focus on health promotion and behavior where I will be equipped with the tools to achieve my professional goals.
What has been the biggest surprise about the college experience? There is a profound level of wisdom, life-experience, and resiliency that college gave me that I truly do not believe I would have gained had I stayed in my hometown. I think for many of us in high school, we thought we had this game called life figured out, ignorant to how little we actually knew. However, true wisdom comes from acknowledging how little we do know and being open-minded to the daily lessons that life brings. Going into college, I thought I was going to choose my major, ace these classes, and get this degree. Sounds simple enough, right? Reflecting on my journey, I could not have expected that I would bomb my first semester, almost get dismissed from school, and change my major three times before finding my true passions, rediscovering myself, and making the dean’s list every semester in my junior and senior years. By no means does life follow a linear path and college is no different. College is about so much more than just getting a degree – it is an opportunity to find ourselves in the vicissitudes of life, fortify the person we want to be in this world, and make mistakes that will one day be the building blocks for our testimonies of success.
Most challenging coursework in college: That was the Fall semester of 2017, sophomore year. I made the grave mistake of taking Calculus I, a computer programming course, Chemistry I, Chemistry Lab, and two other classes (15 credits total) simultaneously, all for the sake of keeping my major in computer engineering. Long story short, I withdrew from three and failed the rest. I was so determined to become a computer engineer, but I was so naïve to the fact that I was applying my energy in the wrong place. I know that sometimes we are convinced that engineering, law, and medicine are the only paths we can take to be professionally successful, but that is a bona fide deception. I put myself in a box, causing me to be blind to the abundance of opportunities where my strengths would be better suited. Experience nurtures the wisdom to know how to pivot accordingly when the cost-benefit analysis of a decision yields a negative value. As challenging as it was, it taught me that success is not measured by the caliber of a degree, but by the people we elevate along the way.
Accomplishment most proud of: After a tumultuous first half of my collegiate career and finding a healthy marriage between my aptitudes and aspirations, I went on to make the W.E.B. Du Bois Honor Society Dean’s List for the next two years. By no means did college become easier after finding a major I truly loved, but that love fueled my drive to continuously strive for greatness in all that I did. Also, during undergrad, I had the privilege to support an incredible community garden called iGrow in the heart of Frenchtown, a town in the poorest zip code in Florida. During my time there, I helped grow tons of affordable organic food for the local community, teach others how to start and grow their own food, and cultivate community bonding between college students and the local community.
Can you provide any advice to our current Knights?
- Find a community of people that operate at the same if not a higher level than you. There is incredible value in learning from people who have already gone through experiences you are having or have yet to go through.
- You make time for what you care for. Make time to study and excel academically, but also find time to build with friends and family and networks. Your network is your net worth.
- Do not expect the path to graduation to be linear. Know that the harder the battle the sweeter the victory. Listen to the voices of victory calling your name. The only L’s in life are lessons.
- If you have a full ride and have money to save, save as much as you and can and invest some so that you can start building wealth while in college. Life starts getting costly after graduation and you want a head start.
- Find ways to get plenty of experience, both academically and professionally. There is no shortage of internships, externships, fellowships, shadows, jobs, or volunteering you can do while in undergrad. Not only this, but it will be more difficult to secure opportunities like these after graduating as an undergrad. These experiences will make it much easier to secure job opportunities and give you a cutting edge.
I paid for college with…: The Center for Academic Excellence and Retention (C.A.R.E.) scholarship and Service Scholars scholarship allowed me to graduate college 100% debt free and with a healthy pile of savings leftover. If it were not for these scholarships, I would have been about $82,000 in debt. The goal of the CARE scholarship is to remove money as an excuse for first-generation and minority students' access to a high-quality education. It covers 100% of tuition and financial fees for 4 years of college, 5 years if you are in engineering. The latter reward is a program reserved for a small cohort that focuses on serving the community and promoting positive social change that covers $3000 annually. This scholarship requires a 1 credit class and 75 hours of community service each semester. I must add that I found these scholarships because of Mr. Milian so please take advantage of him as a resource in your journey towards college. No reason anyone should be taking out loans for college if he is in your corner.
Fondest memory from high school: I want to take a moment to give a major thanks to the litany of incredible teachers and staff that made Jose Marti feel like home for me. I want to shoutout to Mr. Kearns, Mrs. Henderson, Ms. Prieto, Mrs. B, Mrs. Cruz, Mr. Daes, Mr. Dean, Ms. Llanes, Ms. Thompson, Mr. Wayne, and of course, Mr. Milian. These amazing individuals each played a key role in making Jose Marti much more than a little school on 24th Avenue. More than teachers, more than faculty, they were mentors, friends, motivators, my Hialeah family. I could go on about each person’s contribution, but if they made the list, know that they are highly valuable, along with the rest of the Jose Marti community. Now, I would be remiss if I did not hail the greatest, one and only, Silver Knight class of 2016. We may have been just 44 students, but we were a monumental bunch, fun, talented, and destined for Greatness.
High School Graduation Date: June 1, 2016