By Tevin Ali

The future success of education will stem from students graduating with both a major and a mission. I found my mission through being a first-generation college student and overcoming setbacks.

I was born in Trinidad & Tobago. My parents and grandma immigrated to this country to give me and my brother a better quality of life. They didn’t have a college education or the opportunity to pursue one, but they knew the direction they wanted their kids to have.

Being the first in my family to attend college, I struggled early on.

But my struggles made me into who I am today. They also gave me a mission and taught me a life philosophy that I identify with: The Story of a Diamond. Before it is forged, a diamond goes through extreme pressure and temperature. Similarly, in life, we go through that process of transformation. We go through all sorts of pressures, stress, and experiences that shape us into who we are today.

I would now like to share with you what I learned on my STEM journey that led me to become a student success despite my struggles and setbacks.

I call it the Diamond 5 Point Principle:

  • Know Your Direction

Use your time in college to craft your mission and find your passion. I don’t mean that you should state what you “want to have” as your mission, but instead state who you “hope to be.” As Harvard’s Cynthia A. Montgomery says, this is the only way to truly have direction. Of course, we all want that dream job, dream house, dream car, and dream life. But sometimes we get so caught up in what we want to have, that we lose sight of who we hope to be. Dig a bit deeper inside and ask yourself who do you hope to be and what impact do you want to have on others. Knowing your direction will shape your inner diamond.

  • Challenge Yourself to Take Small Actions

In life, it’s the little things that matter because they add up to great big things. I’m where I am now due to the many opportunities in STEM and the fact that I challenged myself to pursue them. I worked as a research technician at The Scripps Research Institute, investigating cures to diseases. I also served as a Millennial Campaign Leader for a start-up called WiseTribe helping foster collaboration with diverse people and generations through community based-projects. I also interned in Washington, D.C., where I graduated top of my class at The Washington Center Internship program while interning for a company called STEMconnector. There were times where I had to challenge myself to apply for these opportunities because I did not consider myself ‘ready’ or ‘good enough’. Don’t limit your challenges, but rather challenge your limits. Be limitless and take that leap of faith. Challenging yourself is the heat and pressure needed to forge your diamond.

  • Encourage the Heart

 Diamonds go through a cooling-off period before they are completely transformed. In forging your inner diamond, the coolant is encouragement and we all need it. We need encouragement to get through the heat and pressure of the day, which is why “encourage the heart” is one of the five best practices James Kouzes and Barry Posner recommend in their book The Leadership Challenge. Encouragement ties into taking small actions as well, because it’s something you can do every day. The world has enough critics, let’s do something bigger and become an encourager. The best way to do this is through mentorship. Seek mentors who can encourage and guide you, and take time to mentor others by encouraging them and sharing your experiences. I wouldn’t have graduated college without the many educators who mentored and encouraged me. Because you see, our strength doesn’t come just from the power of one, but from the force of many.

  • Respond Don’t React

This is a principle that took me a while to learn and something I am still learning to do. Emotions are part of our human blueprint. When things don’t go our way, we must remember to use it as a learning experience and to channel our emotions into something positive. Respond to disappointments by seeing them as learning experiences. Failure is an unavoidable part of success. Be solution minded to overcome and not dwell or get stuck in our reaction to failure. The mistakes, they are yours to make; but the successes are yours to embrace! A diamond doesn’t succumb to negativity, it just shines.

  • Power to Believe

What you are searching for isn’t out there, it’s within. And that’s the power to believe. Just as a diamond goes through a transformation process, we go through a similar process in life. We must come to learn to trust the process. You will come to experience success and also obstacles. But when that happens we must become someone whose comeback is always stronger than their setbacks. And for this, you are going to need to believe in yourself. Whenever I come to the place of doubt I tell myself “Do not give up, Tevin, you can do this.” Every diamond is cut differently and there is nothing more beautiful than something that believes and shines in its own uniqueness.

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Through these principles I have come to understand my mission. I hope to be an agent of change in science, education and in the lives of others. I wake up every morning with the mission to empower, motivate, and inspire others to become the best versions of themselves. I live my mission every day through being an empowering motivational speaker unlocking the potential in others. Most importantly, through it all I finally have come to firmly believe in myself.

As a result: I have been named the 2017 State of Florida Student of the Year, I now attend my dream school at Johns Hopkins University, get the opportunity to inspire others through motivational speaking, and aspire to manage a biotechnology company one day.

Tevin Ali is a Johns Hopkins University graduate student. Connect with Tevin on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Learn more about how community college students can spend the summer at prestigious research institutions, while being paid, here.