by Brandon Summers | March 2016
The plan was to become an engineer. Georgia Tech was the end game. In 2006, I accepted a full ride Presidential Scholarship to Fort Valley State University. I would major in math there, and transition into the CDEP-Georgia Tech Engineering partnership upon completion of my math degree. This is something I truly wanted. My dream as a kid was to become an engineer. I was curious about how electronics worked so I took apart speakers, VCRs, vacuum cleaners, etc. I liked problem solving. I was good at math and my favorite class in high school was Physics.
Fort Valley was in interesting choice. It was in the South— a region I’d never visited. It was a Historically Black College (HBCU). No one in my family had been to an HBCU— hell, none of my biological relatives had gone to or finished college. My great-grandmother Octavia Tolefree graduated from Branch Normal College (now University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in the 1920’s, however no one on the family tree had followed suit in almost 100 years. My stepfather graduated from law school in Iowa the year I was born, and his family too did not have a legacy of college graduates. Going to college was exciting not only for me, but for my the family.
After overcoming the culture shock, homesickness, aging dorms, the cafeteria food, and the lack of internet connectivity, Fort Valley grew on me. This tiny, rural town in the heart of middle Georgia had a unique charm that wasn’t possible in a large metropolitan city. The slow pace, “yes mams” and “no sirs”, and the isolation was a departure from the life I knew— but it gave me a fresh start and identity of my own making. I met some incredible people, made good friends, and enjoyed the autonomy of being away from home. To many, I was the smart guy, the violin guy, the guy who made beats, and the guy from Vegas. I had a job as a math tutor, I played bass in Jazz Band, and I went on a recruitment tour with the president of the school (twice!). I belonged and that was everything.
The first two years at FVSU were really nice. There were plenty of things to complain about, but overall I had peace and joy. Everything was going according to plan. I had no idea that things would fall apart.