I met Darnell Caldwell and her big smile a couple of days ago after discovering she had won a big monetary scholarship.
She is a nursing student who has excelled and impressed people who only know that she has a chance to be great at her chosen profession. They don’t know the road that she has traversed to almost get the payoff she seeks.
To see the college honor student now in the demanding field of nursing, you would not suspect that the younger Caldwell always found school to be a tough load for her to carry. She had a difficult time understanding and processing information given her.
“I tried very hard but never made good grades like my younger brothers,” she said. “I watched for years how they got awards for honor roll. I received awards for ‘Teacher’s Helper’ and ‘Most Participation.’ ”
Yet, Caldwell continued to plug away, hoping at some point to “get it.” But that wasn’t in the cards for her, at least, not in her formative years.
Finally, some education counselors came to the conclusion that she had a learning disability. Caldwell had sort of diagnosed that out herself.
While muddling through grade school and on into high school, thoughts of her going to college seemed like an idea that would never have its time.
In fact, she said, college, for her, was never discussed.
The life experiences of her close family members had painted a picture of her future. “My mother and aunts were great cooks, and my uncle was a waiter at some of New Orleans’ famous restaurants,” she said.
Without a doubt, Caldwell saw the blueprint of her life. She knew of neighborhoods where most of the people there worked in the New Orleans food and entertainment industry. She smiled when she thought about it.
“Everyone in my immediate family is in the hospitality industry,” she said. “So it was understood that I was to be a cook or a waitress.”
Caldwell recalled being taught how to fold dinner napkins into fans and swans and how to serve from the left and pick up from the right.
When she left high school, she had all of a 1.67 grade-point average and no confidence that she could be successful in college.
When she reached her late 20s, “I got the nerve to attend a technical college in phlebotomy in New Orleans.” She then went to Memphis, Tennessee, and received a certificate qualifying her to be an emergency medical technician.
Then, ignoring the anxieties and lack of self-confidence that had dogged her for years, she decided to be what she really wanted to be — a nurse.
“I was told I was making a monumental mistake that would not only affect me but also my family,” she said.
She was steadied though by an excerpt of “A Return to Love” by Marianne Williamson. It says in part: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”
“I repeated that poem to myself every day for a month,” she said.
Caldwell applied to William Carey University in New Orleans in nursing. She locked down her studying, and what do you know … she transferred to Southern University with a 3.4 gpa and was accepted into the nursing program.
“I believed in myself and conquered my fears,” she said. “Nursing school became my life, and I put my heart and soul in taking the biggest steps of my life to my calling.”
Now a senior nursing student, Caldwell recently won a $5,000 national nursing scholarship, the second financial award in a year. She had to have at least a 3.0 gpa to get the awards.
Caldwell said she wants to speak to children who are told that they maybe aren’t good enough or there is something too high for them to reach.
“I want them to know,” she said, “that their current situation can change with time, effort and dedication.”
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is email@example.com.