Tanisha Washington
Story Voices and Views

Persevering through Despair

Tanisha Washington, Alumna of CSU Long Beach, 2009 Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Scholar


Tanisha Washington
Washington in graduation regalia following her completion of a CSU Long Beach degree in management information systems with a special emphasis in applications development

Believe, Achieve, Dream, Become

“If you believe it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.” This quote has a lot of meaning to me. It was the theme of my valedictory speech when I graduated from community college and transferred to California State University. It was the opening line for my dinner speech when I celebrated earning my bachelor’s degree. Just as important, the first time I encountered this quote was on an oversized poster in the entrance to a homeless shelter I lived in on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.

When my father died an untimely death, my mother did all she could to support our family alone. Unfortunately, she also had health issues and disabilities that made it even more difficult and so my family descended quickly into an unfamiliar and terrifying situation. With nothing but the clothes on our backs and a few luggage bags of our belongings in our hands, a taxi cab dropped my mom, sister, and me off in the middle of abject poverty of which I never knew existed in the US. Many people and their belongings thickly lined both sides of the street. My family stood right there, in the middle of the street huddled together – astonished, afraid. My mom, the fountain from which strength and encouragement ever flows anew, was able to get her bearings, and put on a smile. She assured us everything would be fine as long as we were together and kept the faith. 

The next few months were like a whirl wind. We slept at any shelter that had room for us, and when there wasn’t shelter space, we slept on the floor of a church that welcomed the homeless to come in out of the night cold. There were many around us lost in the despair of the situation, but my mom, sister, and I kept hope alive for a brighter future. At the darkest points, when things became really scary or tough, I turned my thoughts to the ‘Believe, Achieve, Dream, Become’ quote. It became my inner mantra for strength and perseverance.

My mom was also a point of strength. She did everything she could to ensure that my sister and I would still, in light of our situation, be able to attend college. And that we did! It wasn’t easy though. Many times we couldn’t afford all of the required text books, so we would depend on the kindness of our classmates to share their books with us. Also a few times we couldn’t afford bus fare, so we would walk for two hours from the university campus to home. However, we didn’t mind at all. It was a blessing to have legs and good health to be able to walk to get to or from our other blessing which was a good education.

It’s incredible that nine years have passed since I stood in the street with my family and our belongings, since I first noticed the quote that would give me strength to persevere for years to come. I am now working for a prominent company and quickly building up my career in the computer security field.

On February 26, I will have a chance to share my story with the congregation of the First AME church in Los Angeles as part of CSU Super Sunday. I hope that I’ll be able to ignite a spark in at least one youth that did not consider a higher education to be a part of his or her future. I also hope to encourage anyone that may be going through a difficult time to always reach higher and not give up. I want them to persevere — to believe, achieve, dream, and become the very best of themselves no matter what their situation may be.