When Nadiya Blair’s high school offered a dual credit program with San Jacinto College, she jumped at the chance to get an associate’s degree at the same time as her high school diploma. That accomplishment allowed her to enter Howard University as a junior.
Now, two years later, Blair has graduated Summa Cum Laude from Howard and is preparing to return to Houston to open her own business.
It’s quite a feat for a woman who hasn’t even reached her 19th birthday. Here she shares how she did it during the pandemic, how she graduated debt-free and tips for parents and students.
Defender: You recently graduated with honors from Howard, the last year stifled by the pandemic. How did you manage?
Nadiya Blair: That was extremely difficult, not having the resources and the support system that I normally have on campus. So I’m blessed that my family was so supportive. I produced a 40-page thesis and cried the whole time I was working. But I was passionate about my topic (Tools that administrators used in schools to keep Black girls out of school, like suspension, expulsions, anything that keeps Black girls from being educated, the same amount as their peers). For so many people, we’ve suffered so many losses during the pandemic and it’s almost like you don’t have time to mourn. That can be very emotionally draining. And I don’t even just mean loss of people in your life, but loss of dreams, goals, graduation, things that we’ve been looking forward to for years. It really gets down on you. So I think that was the hardest part, making sure that I kept my head up. For the class of 2020 and 2021, especially those who gave up their high school years, it’s really important to not dismiss their feelings. This is a goodbye that almost everyone is given, that gives closure and these classes didn’t get that. Lack of closure hurts. And people need to understand that those feelings are valid.
Defender: You’re graduating debt free. How did you manage that?
Blair: I didn’t get a full ride from Howard. They covered tuition, but that’s it. I was blessed to have a bunch of small scholarships. I never had to worry about a job. My number one tip is don’t snub your nose at small scholarships. I spent a lot of time going after $100, $300, $500 scholarships because they add up. Everybody wants to apply for the big 10, 50 grand. Those scholarships are fantastic, but it’s easier to get the smaller ones. Take a weekend and just dedicate time to applying for as many small scholarships as possible. You may not get them all. But if you keep persevering, it will work.
Defender: Where does this dedication and motivation you display come from?
Blair: I definitely give credit to my creator. But also my parents are just exceptional people. The amount of love my parents have poured into me was awesome. They weren’t helicopter parents. But they did encourage me and were extremely supportive, but they didn’t force me to do anything. They took the approach, ‘If you get a bad grade, that’s on you and you can’t do the things you want in life with bad grades.’ That onus just made me want to do well.
Defender: What’s next for you?
Blair: I’m currently running a franchise for my own vector marketing business. I’m really excited about that because it’s just so exciting that my bosses have trusted me to run a franchise for quarter of a billion dollar company at 18. It’s the coolest thing ever. But first, I’m taking a year off. (And I think parents need to understand it’s okay to do that). I just want to take a year to just recuperate and really want to get back into community service. So I’m going to be pursuing the Presidential Lifetime Service award. I already have two president’s volunteer service awards, but I want the lifetime, which is 2,000 community service hours. I’m learning how to play the guitar. Spending time with family. I’m trying to get better at Spanish. Just little things like that. But the goal is to go to graduate school and pursue a master’s in public policy, social work on business administration with a focus in nonprofit management because my end and lifetime goal is have a nonprofit that increases college readiness and professional development opportunities for incarcerated youth in foster care and other marginalized youth.