Dillard Today Magazine
Megan Braden-Perry’s Gradu-union 2017
By Megan Braden-Perry
Grades are in, and I’m finally graduating from Dillard University–just 10 years after
I thought I would.
I enrolled in Dillard for summer school during the summer after my high school graduation, in 2003. Early in my senior year of high school, I found my mom dead on the sofa downstairs. She couldn’t afford health insurance, so she had a heart attack and died. We lived with my grandfather, who was my lifelong father figure, and he took ill two weeks after. I had to move in with his mentally and emotionally abusive nephew and his wife. My grandfather died that winter, and his nephew blamed my family’s deaths on me. My motivation to enroll in Dillard was to live in a space where I could feel like I had a family, and maybe where I would cry myself to sleep just once a month instead of daily.
I maintained a 4.0 that summer, but I guess not having a family “hit me” during my freshperson year struck a nerve. I watched as my peers’ parents came and sent care packages. My mom had promised me care packages and all the other cute stuff parents do for their college-attending children. In fact, I was on Fastweb.com looking up scholarships and watching A Different World when my grandfather came upstairs to have me check on my mom who, he told me, “‘hadn’t moved all morning on the sofa and was kind of cold.”’ I had and still have The Village, and they did a lot for me. My high school librarian Ms. Harrison took me school shopping; my mom’s best friend Melanie threw me a party; my Aunt Lisa made me brownies. But there’s nothing like your real family. I’d started sleeping in more and had no clue I was depressed. “That’s white people [stuff].”
I was doing ok in school, just quietly suffering. I was involved in student government, dorm councils, orientation committees–basically had my hand in everything going on at Dillard. I was a huge Dillard supporter because Dillard was a family when I had none. The dorm mothers and fathers, all the administration, the professors, and my brothers and sisters on campus–it was amazing to feel love like that.
Junior year, 2005, I’d finally got it all together. GPA was looking nice, got me a nice room in Williams Hall with no roommate and a view ideal for seeing the comings and goings at Straight Hall and Williams. But then, I got that call early in the morning, asking if I want to go to Houston to evacuate for Hurricane Katrina. We all know how that turned out.
That grief-adrenaline thing kept me going for about a year during the Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel days. Dillard students and faculty were stationed there for two accelerated semesters from January 2006 until May 2006. Back when my family died, I inherited our home. Yes, a blessing, but when you’re only 21 and adults keep coming to you telling you, “[Mayor] Nagin is gonna come and knock your house down if you don’t fix it,” and your house is all you have left, you freak out.
All I remember of my original senior year, the year I first left Dillard, is making lots of pineapple upside-down cake and pizza in the Gentilly Gardens. I cooked a lot, I think because I was stressed and felt like the hurricane was the last straw.
I left sometime in 2006 to fix my house. It’s fuzzy when I think back. But when you’re a 21-year-old single woman with neither a degree nor a car, living on a retail sales check, it takes a while to rebuild a house. Like many others, my house still isn’t complete. Exposed wires and plumbing galore. Black mold, hole in my roof.
Between 2006 and 2010, I left Dillard and came back a few times, lights got cut off here and there, emergency repairs set me back enough that I’d have to leave school. After 2010, I decided I wasn’t going to go to school anymore. I realized I wanted to be a magazine writer, and I figured out how to do that. In several Dillard classes, I learned that if you want to be like your role models, you need to learn what they did to get there. So I applied for a Gambit CUE Magazine internship in 2011, using a portfolio of clips (articles) on fashion that I wrote, edited, and designed myself using free software. I did really well at Gambit, and they hired me before my internship was done–mostly because I started a series called Public Transit Tuesdays, which was about exploring communities through public transportation. That made NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune recruit me while they were laying off dozens of other employees.
I worked hard on building a brand and social media following, letting my work speak for itself, and I’ve since written for ESSENCE, Jezebel, Where Traveler, and NY Daily News. I’ve never had to pitch stories to them either–they know about my work and come to me.
I’ve also gotten married, had a baby, gotten divorced, and written two books: Allen the Alligator Counts Through New Orleans (a children’s book about counting) and Crescent City Snow: The Ultimate Guide to New Orleans Snowball Stands (the first ever nonfiction book about snowballs).
Returning to Dillard for the 2016-2017 year meant I could finally be an alumna, and not just of the dictionary definition of alumni sense: I could go to grad school; I could apply for jobs and stop having to be crafty about how I word the “education” part of my resume. When I received a flyer in the mail recruiting non-traditional students who wanted to return, I contacted my friend and former classmate Christopher Stewart, ‘08, Associate Director for Recruitment, Admissions and Programming and he told me I could likely finish in a year. Another friend and former classmate, Monica White, ‘07, Director of Recruitment, Admissions and Programming, agreed that his was possible. I trusted them and re-enrolled.
After graduation, I’m attending University of New Orleans (UNO) for their MFA in Creative Writing and doing TeachNOLA. I’m also continuing to volunteer with Big Class and Books to Prisoners, and being an active Urban League member.
I didn’t mention the myriad disappointments over the years. Not because I’m ashamed, but because they don’t matter–never did. A Dillard administrator friend Ms. Linda G. Nash once told me, “Rejection is God’s protection.” It’s true. I’m not sure why my path across The Oaks looks like the meandering lines in “The Family Circus” comics, but I do feel that it’s part of His plan. When I say my prayers throughout the day, I always thank Him for every little thing and say, “I don’t know how we’re gonna do XYZ, but I know we will.” “And through the joyous day the dreaded night,” He still hasn’t left my side.