An Education

When I wrote my first bio for a publication, I followed the format that I understood to be the norm: “Danielle Shontae Smith holds an MA in English–Creative Writing from Western Washington University, as well as a BA in Women’s Studies from UCLA, with emphases in social inequality and literature. A student affairs professional by trade, Danielle currently writes and seeks a poetry community in Bellingham, WA.”

The language didn’t feel quite right to me, but I didn’t know what other language I could use to write my bio because I had no model.

When we talk about educations, the language is so passive. Taylor obtained her BA from University of Pennsylvania. Maya has an MA from Howard University. Michelle holds a PhD from University of Chicago.

When I read a person’s educational background and see the words “has,” “holds,” and “obtained,” I sigh.

So…Michelle, you were just standing on a corner one day when someone strolled by and handed you a PhD, and now you’re just holding it? Claim what’s yours, Michelle!

I wonder how their biographies would read if they were to share the truth about the life they lived while they studied for their degrees.

The author is smiling at the camera. She's wearing a black cap and gown and master's hood while proudly displaying a diploma cover. Her hairdo, which she spent tens of minutes on, lost its fight against the graduation cap, which is sliding off her scalp.
Excuse the hair. Those mortarboards clearly weren’t designed by someone with my type of hair.

Danielle Shontae Smith earned an MA in English–Creative Writing from Western Washington University; a BA in Women’s Studies from UCLA, with emphases in social inequality and literature; and an AA with Great Distinction in Humanities & Fine Arts from Riverside Community College.

Between her AA, BA, and MA, Danielle successfully completed 61 classes in seven years while battling crippling depression; an eating disorder; impostor syndrome; sleep deprivation to study, lesson plan, and grade assignments; several breakdowns; sexual harassment; racial microaggressions; intimate partner violence; housing, food, and financial insecurity, including selling her plasma so she could afford food until she was told she could no longer donate plasma because her iron and protein levels were too low because she was nutritionally deficient from having no nutritive food; and living for several years in a city that consistently tops the list of places in the U.S. that get the least days of sunshine.

Danielle has since returned to her native Southern California and is putting her learned marketable skills to use at a full-time, grown-up job so her rescue dog can have a nice life.

Pretty solid first draft.

— This essay has been excerpted from A Map You Cannot Refold.