The Vertical

Make Your Own Path

Kamal Lythcott

Walking home from dance practice was always one of my favorite parts of the night. After my body heat seemed to be a thousand degrees, the after practice feeling of that cool air on my skin was very relieving. Walking those Brooklyn streets during the evening instead of the afternoon was always a different feeling. As a senior, most of my companions were seniors, but somehow I ended up in a dance club with only freshmen. Growing up, I felt like I had to hide my talent in dancing because I didn’t have a typical body for it, and I never had any professional training. I was always the person that stayed in the corner, quiet, because I thought people would judge me because of the way I look. But during the annual club fair that is held at my school, I decided to go out on a limb and join the dance club.  I never introduced the idea to all of my friends in the beginning, so I found myself surrounded by people I didn’t know at all. But, over time, I grew close bonds with my teammates, and the best part of the day was being in practice. Doing all of our special moves, like the gallop, felt like a breath of fresh air, and sometimes I caught myself doing our moves when I was walking down the street. Even though I grew close bonds with my teammates, these relationships weren’t on the same level as those between me and my closest peers. This meant most practices I found myself going home alone while the rest of them traveled together.  But it was never an issue because during that time I had plenty of time to think to myself. For me, those quiet moments that I got by just listening to the world as I walked to the train station were very soothing. I found peace in those nights walking alone, because during this time I had to start seriously thinking about my future, including what college that I saw myself at. These evening walks of thought became interesting because my coach asked me a very important question. “Are you going to continue dancing in college?” This was a question I had never seriously thought about until that moment. “I think so; I’m not sure what college I want to go to.” I knew the application process was coming up very soon, but I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. As I walked home that night, I thought about what I really wanted out of a college, and which one of them would be the perfect one for me. The biggest influence on my choosing a school that I should attend was my mother telling me about her experience going to college. 

My mother was born in Kinston, North Carolina. Without her mother around, she and her twin sister were raised by her grandfather. When she moved to New York, it was an entirely different life for her. She moved in with her aunt in Yonkers when she was 14. Staten Island was definitely not close to Yonkers, but that didn’t stop my mom from applying to Wagner College during her senior year of high school. This was a difficult transition because her twin sister decided to join the army, and was based in Virginia, where she still lives to this day. Being a black woman at a predominantly white college, my mom made sure that her main focus was her education. Her goal was to go to college and graduate so she could keep moving up in the world. I thank my mom for staying in New York, because if she didn’t I wouldn’t be writing this essay today. Growing up, my mother always talked about her experience of going away to college. She was able to have that entire college experience and was able to meet people who she still speaks to over thirty years later. So I knew that wherever I went I would want to have that experience of staying on campus. I decided to research different schools that I would have a chance of going to. The school that popped out to me the most was Pace University. This school was the most appealing to me because I already knew about their academics, and I loved their business programs. I also already knew about Pace because my best friend’s sister was a student there. One morning, I decided to sign up for a tour of the school to see what it would be like to be a Pace student. That morning I woke up extra early and got onto the subway to go see the school. It was a very freeing experience because I don’t usually do things by myself, and I decided I would treat myself to a day out while I toured the school. This day was a very beautiful day out of a week of storms and gloomy weather.  I sat in the empty subway car bubbling with excitement. This feeling was mixed with joy that the train that was always packed to the brim over the weekend was empty. I arrived at the school, and the first question that ran through my mind was: I wonder what the dormitories look like. The first thing I did was to go on a tour of the campus. We walked through the streets of New York, and it amazed me that some of these buildings were a part of the campus. They seemed to fit in the street side so well. When we visited the different dormitories, they looked like modern apartment buildings. We visited the Freshman Majority Dormitory, “Maria’s Tower.” Walking into this building felt like I was entering someone’s home. But I felt like a guest that was taking a tour of it. At the front desk, there were two security guards that let us inside, and up the elevators. We visited one of the rooms on the top floor, and the view of the city was beautiful. Through high school, I visited a lot of campuses and saw a lot of dorm rooms, but visiting these rooms with the possibility that I could be able to stay there one day made it an entirely different experience. The thought of being on my own but still being so close to home gave me a feeling of excitement. 

After the tour, I went to different presentations that explained the program I wanted to attend, which was the School of Business. It was an amazing experience, because after hearing all of the speakers, I thought that Pace’s School of Business program was immaculate. Getting on the subway left me with a feeling of happiness and despair. The further the train car got from the school, the more the seats were filled. As I got closer to home, I was reminded that I wasn’t there yet, but I knew I wasn’t that far away.  I wanted those last months of school to go by quickly because I wanted to start my life at Pace as fast as I could, but I was happy because in my heart I felt like I would be back. When I got home I told my mother what I had experienced that day. We sat at our dining table, and she was still in her pajamas. As I explained to her what seemed to be a day for the history books, she gave me a look of unsureness. “It’s a really good school, but I heard it’s really expensive.” I tried to explain to her that I hadn’t gotten into the school yet, and if I did get in, there could be a chance that I could get good scholarships. My high school was very eerie to go to because most of my peers knew what college they wanted to go to, and it seemed like they had their plans thought out. But I knew what I really wanted, and that was to go to Pace University, so that was my main focus and plan. As a tradition of my high school, the seniors have a special celebration where they walk around the street that the school is on, and at the end send a letter in the post. This letter can be anything: an application, a financial aid application, even a scholarship letter. When the day came, all of the students wore their senior sweatshirts they had designed for the celebration. We walked with a band, with cheerleaders in front of us, and people on the side chanting us on as we made our journey around the street. I held my application for Pace University in my hand, and I dropped it into the bucket of letters and a feeling of joy and relief ran through my body. I knew the future wasn’t certain, but something in my bones felt as if this would be the college that I would be attending. 

After weeks of waiting, I finally got the email I had been waiting for. I was on the subway, feeling jolts of nervousness go through my body. This was it, the moment that would define the future I had shaped for myself. I waited to get home to open the email; whatever happened, I knew it wouldn’t define me. I got home quickly and opened the email, and when I opened the status update, everything I thought I would feel came to fruition. “Congratulations, you have been accepted to Pace University’s Class of 2023.” At that moment I saw my future flash before my eyes, and it was the happiest I had ever been during that time. I called my mom instantly to let her know the good news. She gave me an excited response, which gave me a good feeling, because I felt like she could possibly come around to me going to Pace. At this time I had already been accepted to five other schools, including Brooklyn College and Long Island University, but it felt as though none of those acceptances mattered because I had been accepted to my dream school, and I was ready to go. I decided to take another tour of the school, but this time from the perspective of an accepted student. This tour made me feel like I was looking at a new home of mine. After my second tour of the school, I decided to go into the book store to buy as much merchandise as I could hold. I got a sweatshirt and a wallet that I still have to this day. Putting on my Pace University sweater for the first time made me feel as though I was achieving all of the goals that I planned for. Even though it was a regular sweater, it felt like the warmest and softest sweater I had ever worn. I wore it to school every other day because I knew someone was bound to ask if I was going to that school, and I was excited to say yes. 

It seemed like everything was going exactly to plan until we received my financial aid package in the mail. After opening it, all of my joy and excitement for the future turned into a feeling of disappointment. It was impossible for me or my mother to come up with the amount of money that they were asking for. I was scared to show it to my mother because I already knew what her reaction was going to be. When she came home that night I hesitated to give her the letter, but I knew that I had to give it to her. She looked at the letter and looked at me with a face of sorrow. “Kamal, I don’t think that we’ll be able to come up with the money for this.” I tried to defend the letter: “I can take out a loan for the school, it says that I’m eligible and I can make up half of the price in loans.” But this wasn’t enough because my mom refused to allow me to put myself 100,000 dollars in debt. Even after this I still held out hope that something would allow me to go to that school. I went to practice and my coach saw me wearing my Pace sweatshirt. “Is that where you decided to go to school?” I didn’t know what to say; I bit my tongue, and just said: “I don’t know, it’s really expensive, and I don’t think that we’ll be able to pay for it.” When I looked at my coach, I always saw myself in him. He looked like he was a few years out of college, and he enjoyed doing what loved, and he was confident in himself. In some way, I wanted to model this sort of confidence, but at that moment it felt like I was stuck in time.  I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but all of my faith went out of the window when my mom came into my room one day and gave me some news that threw me in a whirlwind: “Kamal, I need you to email the school and tell them that you’re going to rescind your application.” I stayed silent, but I had no choice in my decision because I knew that ultimately putting myself in debt wouldn’t be the smartest choice. It just felt like my entire future that I had planned out had turned to crumbs right in front of my face. I went to school the next day and wrote the email, and sent it with hurt in my heart. All of the celebration and joy that I had put into this accomplishment had been flushed down the toilet in one email. At that moment, I felt my entire world turn upside down. I had no idea what I was going to do with my future; I had put all my eggs in one basket, and I had dropped it. This took a major toll on me and my academics. I started slacking in school, and my grades started to go down tremendously. 

The two things that gave me confidence were dancing and finding a new plan. It felt like the beginning of the school year; I had to go through my college acceptances and figure out which school gave me that same feeling as Pace had. I had applied to two SUNY schools, and the first one to which I had been accepted was SUNY Geneseo. I did some research on the school, and it felt like a spark started in me once again. I felt like this school could be a place where I could excel, and also it was a SUNY school, so I had a chance to get the Excelsior scholarship. When I went to school, people were shocked to see that I wasn’t wearing my Pace University sweatshirt anymore. When I started listing the schools I might go to it seemed like everyone’s head popped up when I said Geneseo. I hadn’t known the amount of recognition that my school had until I brought it up. I started to do more research on the school, and the spark turned into a fire. I felt like I was able to write my future again after my old one was thrown away. When I brought the idea up to my mom, she didn’t seem too enthusiastic. I kept trying to tell her that it was a SUNY school, so there was a chance that we could get the Excelsior, and even without it, there was an over forty thousand difference between Geneseo and Pace. But she wasn’t concerned about the price this time around; she was more concerned about my academics. Through the time of my saying goodbye to Pace, I got my spark back in terms of finding a new school, but I didn’t get my academics back together. “Kamal, I really want you to go to that school. But I don’t want you to go upstate if you are not ready to take on the responsibility of being by yourself.” I couldn’t blame her for feeling that way because I wasn’t performing to the best of my abilities, but I did feel shame for her feeling like that. I knew that I was so much better than what she was seeing, but I couldn’t convince her without showing her. My mom had to learn to be on her own at a very young age. Being my mother, she has seen me grow up, from baby to teenager. Being that we’ve lived together for most of my life, she knows the ups and downs of me. My mother didn’t force me to do my work, but she definitely gave me an extra push to do my work. With me going away, she felt fear about my grades, because no one would be there to give me that extra push. But I had to show her that I could be the student that she wanted me to be. My mom has been through a lot of things in her life, and she doesn’t want me to go through those same things. My experience of going away to college and being a black student at a predominantly white school is very similar to hers. But in order to follow in her footsteps, I must take those experiences and make them my own. Just like her, I  have to learn to be on my own to forge my future.  After this conversation, I worked extra hard to get my grades back up to where they needed to be. I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way of going to this school. I felt like all of the pieces fell into the right place, and I was going to do everything that I could to become the student that I know I could be.

 It was approaching the last weeks of school, and I was heading to one of my last practices for Dance. My teacher asked me where I decided to go to school, and I told him Geneseo. He said he’d never heard of the school, and he didn’t know their dance programs. So I thought to myself, I have no idea what their dance programs are, either. How will I make my own story if I’m not doing what gave me happiness through my darkest moments during my senior year? At the time I thought to myself, I wonder how I’m going to pursue this happiness through college? This was a turning point for me, and not only for my confidence; I decided I would share my story with others through dance. I knew that once I left high school it would be time for me to truly break out of my shell. During my summer program at Geneseo, I participated in a talent show where I broke out of my shell by dancing. This was one of the most freeing moments of my life. Throughout my entire life, I had always stood in the back and tried to control my future. In the process of deciding what college I wanted to go to, I lost myself trying to make a future that just wasn’t going to happen. I had to grow up and know that everything can’t happen without hard work being put into it. I feel like this experience also helped my mother and I develop our bond because, after what had happened with Pace, I felt like we were drifting apart. She knew that I wanted it so bad, but we both knew that it couldn’t happen. In the beginning, I was resentful, but I had to learn how to move on and find what’s better for myself. I had to show her that I’m stronger than I thought I was because she saw that I didn’t have the faith in myself and it showed through my school work. All of these things helped me become the person that I am today. After all of my hard work, I decided to write my story by letting chance take the pen. I don’t write my story now; I let my life and decisions do that for me. Looking back at my story now, being the new captain of the dance club on campus, I think it was all worth it to be the person I am today. I’m happy to say that the boy I pictured I would become came to fruition. Not because I forced him here, but because I let all of my fears go, and let him come to the surface on his own. I know everything happens for a reason and the future is unwritten.


My name is Kamal Lythcott. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I am a sophomore Economics major. Since I was a child, dancing has always been a passion of mine. I never had any formal training, and I taught myself to dance, in a way, watching videos and copying every move until I got it right. I’m currently the captain of my dance team here at Geneseo, and will be Vice President in Fall 2021. I plan to keep dancing throughout my time here at Geneseo. Photo credit: Kamal Lythcott