Miraclejoy Curtis never lacked the intelligence, drive, passion or commitment to attend a four-year university. She just simply didn’t think it was an option.

“In my mind, my perception, college was for rich white people,” Curtis said. “I didn’t think I deserved it, I didn’t think I twice about it.”

Curtis is graduating today from Central Washington University with a bachelors degree in public relations.

Curtis grew up in a low-income, single-parent household with seven siblings in Seattle, and said she started to become a product of her environment.

“I would skip school a lot, I would fight. I had a really rough childhood growing up,” Curtis said. “When I turned 16, I was like, ‘There’s got to be more than this — my name is Miraclejoy. I can’t just live my life doing this day to day.’”

Curtis eventually found herself enrolling in the Columbia Basin Job Corps in Moses Lake, where she got her driver’s license and earned her high school diploma as well as a certificate in business technologies. She thought that was good enough.

“I was ready to go back to Seattle,” she said. “I can go get a job, live life, whatever — but college recruiters had approached me and counselors had approached me and they were like, ‘Miracle, you need to go to college.’”

That concept was so foreign to Curtis that it had never really entered her mind.

“The environment that you come from, the people that your surrounded with in the public school system that are used to living in poverty, paycheck to paycheck — you’re constantly getting that voice,” Curtis said.

She said people were constantly telling her she’d do nothing with her life, and to make sure to apply for welfare and to depend on the government.

“That’s what I was raised around so that’s what I thought it was all going to be,” she said.

Representation matters

Curtis applied and earned scholarships to attend Big Bend Community College where she earned her associates of arts and science while graduating with honors.

“When I got there I was nervous,” Curtis said with a laugh. “I felt like a mouse in a pit full of snakes. Why am I here? What’s going on? But I was like, ‘I’m going to do it, I’m going to step out on faith.’”

During her time there, she became a peer advocate for first-generation college students and traveled around the country telling them her story to help them take that first step to go to college. But when it came time for her to move on to a four-year university, again, she resisted.

“People from Central would come and say ‘come to Central, come to Central,” she said. “I’d say ‘No no no — I don’t want to do that. University? That’s not me.’”

And that’s how she continued to think until she met CWU Center for Diversity and Social Justice Diversity Officer Michelle Cyrus and finally saw herself.

“It was just a wow factor to always see her there,” Curtis said. “She was a woman of color, she was a black woman and she was educated. She was pursuing her doctorate. I was like ‘Whoa, I don’t see this where I’m from, this is actually real. Representation matters.”

Cryus told her she’d have a job for her at CWU, and that support and feeling of community helped Curtis dive head first toward earning her bachelor’s degree.

Unexpected tragedy

At the end of Curtis’ first year at CWU, she received a phone call that her mother had unexpectedly died from a blood disease. Just a week earlier Curtis had been on the phone with her mom, receiving praise for chasing her dreams.

“I just didn’t know what to do,” Curtis said.

She rushed home and spent the summer with her family, and despite the feelings of wanting to quit, Curtis decided to take a positive outlook instead.

“I felt like she was the one who raised me to be so driven and strong and to have tenacity,” Curtis said. “Even though I wanted to quit, wanted to drop out of college and stay home … I was like no, I’m going to do it in honor of my mom.”

So in the fall of 2016, she hit the ground running. She was previously involved in the Black Student Union, but became more actively involved in a myriad clubs and organizations. As a result of those relationships, it’s hard for her to walk anywhere on campus without receiving hugs and saying hi to basically anyone and everyone.

“Throughout my journey I just loved others along the way because it helped me be strong,” Curtis said. “I tried my best to be the best version of myself.”

Ready to graduate

Curtis has a job lined up at West Side marketing firm, and is planning to apply to a graduate program at the University of Washington in a few years. When it comes to continuing her education this time, she has zero doubts.

“I’m not scared anymore,” she said. “From my personality to my job, to the decisions that I make, the relationships that I have, I’m just courageous.”