Success is defined differently by each one of us. For some, it’s awards and accolades. For others, it’s money and material possessions. However, for Eastern Kentucky University graduate Rebecca Prichard, success isn’t measured by those things. Instead, she defines success a bit differently -- by exhibiting resilience in the face of adversity.
Prichard shared her inspirational story with fellow graduates during the 2021 Fall Commencement Ceremonies for the colleges of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics on December 4.
College life was not as easy of a ride for Prichard as she imagined. When she arrived on campus, her high-achieving self was ready to take it all on: studying two majors, participating in many student groups and working an on-campus job. After all, doing it “all” is what success means -- or so she thought. After a semester of struggle, she realized she may have not chosen the right majors.
“After some searching and contemplation, I found the social work major,” she said. “I thought the decision to pursue it would fix everything.”
While she thoroughly enjoyed being in social work classes, studying with like-minded peers and learning from her professors, a huge weight still beared down on her. She wasn’t thriving like she expected. So, at the beginning of her junior year, she dropped out. The anxieties didn’t disappear, however, they just became a different set of anxieties.
“I found myself sitting on a mattress on an apartment floor with my dog, having no clue how I ended up in such an awful situation,” she recalls. “I was ultimately alone, and I felt like a failure.”
But EKU didn’t give up on Prichard. As she and her dog Ollie navigated new experiences outside of school, she found faculty members still reached out. She still found support from them and former classmates. She still found encouragement from family and friends.
“EKU is often called the ‘School of Opportunity,’ and I hope my story validates that idea,” Prichard said. “I’m so appreciative for those on this campus who never hesitate to invest into their students, giving many of us like me a reason to invest into ourselves. Without the staff and faculty on this campus who are passionate about student success, I can confidently say that I would not be standing on this stage today.”
One lesson Prichard learned from her semester away from school is that it’s impossible to do it all on your own. She graciously took the encouragement, kind words and other assistance and began building herself back up day by day.
“It didn’t take long at all for me to realize that I needed to be back in my classes and pursuing the field of social work, to eventually give back to this campus and community,” she said. “My goal is to be an advocate for those who are in the same situation as me. So I pushed through. I found support and love in those things around me and did what I needed to in order to get where I am today.”
As she reflected on her time at EKU, she said she started feeling some of the familiar anxieties.
“As I got closer to graduating, I found myself feeling embarrassed by the lack of stoles and cords around me,” she said. “My plain black gown convinced me that I didn’t achieve enough in my time here at EKU and that I should’ve done more.”
But for Prichard, success is not seen by the naked eye.
“My success is navigating the uncertainty that comes with being a first-generation college student. My success is learning to be financially literate despite being raised in poverty. My success is defeating the internal warfare that spent years telling me I couldn’t do it. My success is adapting in the face of adversity. My success is my resilience.”
Today, she feels the opportunities for her are endless. She would like to stick around the Richmond area to pursue her social work career, potentially helping those in the prison system or in higher education. She hopes to someday earn a master’s degree in social work as well.
“I want to work towards social justice in all areas through advocacy, giving people in vulnerable populations and situations the ability to have second, third and thousand chances,” Prichard said. “All people deserve the ability to lead a happy, healthy and successful life.”
EKU recognized 1,341 degree candidates from its six colleges during its fall commencement ceremonies held December 3-4.