Ladies and Gentlemen of the Class of 2014

Dear Class of 2014,

Give back. Sure you paid tuition and ate ramen noodles. You are on a shoestring budget, but even if it's $5, pay it forward. It will ultimately be giving to a good cause.

In May I am graduating with a Bachelor of Arts. Most people who grew up the way I did spent their life behind bars, in rehab, or are already fertilizing the daffodils in a cemetery somewhere. Life wasn't easy for me and I'm sure it's not perfect for you.

Guilford College is a place where everyone is reduced to their first name. Sure, you're the president and you teach at Harvard during the summer. You've most certainly earned the honor of being called "Doctor" and yet he insisted on being called by his first name. Now that took some getting use to.

Every institution is different, but I'm sure that almost every student has a moment of clarity in his or her undergraduate education. I can only speak to my experience and what motivates me to give back.

Through almost every step of my education, I was sure I wouldn't make it. My biological family had made me believe my whole life was a failure. My being born was a mistake, they said. Hearing that most of one's life can make it a mental reality. It was almost debilitating.

That was until I walked into my college and found that I had a clean slate. I learned to form an intelligent sentence. I learned to write. After a few years I felt comfortable in my skin and before I knew it I had a voice. An educated voice that people took seriously.

And then four years passed.

My undergraduate education was about to come to an end. I would no longer receive hate mail from those in authority who detested that I wrote something as a student journalist that offended them. I had to think about who to invite to graduation and start thinking about going to law school.

The time I spent learning began drowning out all of the negativity of my past. The last diploma I received was in eighth grade. My high school education was cut short by my parents' death, so I took a GED. My college took a chance on someone and I took a leap of faith. Here I am at the finish line. I wanted something to memorialize the time I spent achieving my personal goals.

Year after year I'd received emails about the senior gift and honestly it meant nothing to me. I was too busy drudging ahead with loads of assignments and dealing with life as it happened.

It dawned on me. The next time I received a note from Advancement, I would donate. Yes, I'm a broke college student. Yes, the economy sucks. Yes, the world is going to hell in a handbasket. And yes, I would truly miss the money.

I weighed all of those thoughts and decided to leave my mark and my writing etched on the wall, I would give back to the College that gave me so much. I wanted others like me and from different challenging backgrounds to have a similar experience.

By donating even a little, it shows larger donors with deeper pockets, that I care enough about the place where I'm receiving my diploma that I gave, even when I didn't have money. It becomes a contagious thing that I'm excited to be a part of.

You should do the same so others can follow in your steps.

A Graduating Peer,