Jeneva Burton '15

“I am Martin Luther King’s dream, Harriet Tubman’s walk, Wilma Rudolph’s run and Malcolm X’s fight — I am their story.”

Jeneva Burton
Criminology and Criminal Justice, Class of 2015

I am one of the few of my friends in school right now. These friends see so much potential in me but barely see any in themselves. I have to overcome stereotypes placed on me, on us, on our community. I am their story.

I watch my best friend from kindergarten struggle. She was pregnant at the age of 16, and has worked job after job so she can support not only herself but her daughter. She pushes me to be better and do better. I am her story. 

I feel so proud of my mom, who is graduating from college this summer. I will be the second in my family to earn a college degree, right after my mother. It was just my mom and me until I was 4. When I was younger, she would look at me every day with her big brown eyes and tell me how much I meant to her. In her spirit and in her soul, she praised the Man above for giving me opportunities that she, as a young mother, missed. I am her story.

I pray as a handsome, loving man goes in and out of the hospital 15 times. Over and over since he was a baby, my 26-year-old uncle has suffered in a hospital bed with his chest wide open, doctors working on his heart. He had a full academic scholarship at the University of Washington but, due to his illness, couldn’t finish. He is counting on me. I am his story.

I hear little feet running behind me, seeking the path I forge for them. Little do my three siblings know that, as much as they look up to me, I’m looking up to them. I am their story.

I am Martin Luther King’s dream, Harriet Tubman’s walk, Wilma Rudolph’s run and Malcolm X’s fight. The people who endured slavery and segregation, who were hanged, raped and killed, who marched for my rights, who wanted their skin color to not be belittled but to be understood and appreciated — I am their story.

I know the reason I am here standing here today is because of my Lord, My God. I am his story.

My name is Jeneva Burton. I am from Seattle, Washington. I am the oldest of four siblings. I am an African American woman. It wasn’t until middle school that I became conscious of the color of my skin. Being the only African American girl in class was a struggle; afraid to raise my hand for fear of being criticized for my answer, I sat quiet. Now, as a junior at Saint Martin’s University, there are times that I still sit quiet. However, Saint Martin’s has helped me develop an empowered voice for not only myself, but also my peers and my community.

Four years ago, I was offered a scholarship to Saint Martin’s University. It was the best offer I received from a college, and one of the main reasons I chose Saint Martin’s. Without that scholarship, I would have missed a lot of opportunities. I would not be the president of Black Student Union for the second year in a row. I would not be a student representative serving on three University committees, as well as a committee in Seattle. I wouldn’t have just returned from Denver, where I watched my criminal justice professor and mentor, Dr. Anne Sulton, argue a civil rights case — and I wouldn’t be motivated to consider a future in civil rights law myself. I wouldn’t be a young woman of color eager and confident in my ability to lead, holding myself accountable to those who support me. Because of Saint Martin’s University, I have a clear understanding of what I need to do to get to where I want to go.

So, if you ask me what my story is, I am not only going to talk about myself. I have responsibilities to uphold, legacies to keep, paths to create, inspiration to offer. I work toward the day when my friends, my siblings, my ancestors and my fellow Saints feel proud of me for all I’ve done on this earth. Until then, I aspire to be their strength. You see, my degree is not only for me, but for my family, my peers and my community. And, my God.

What I want to say is: Thank you. Thank you to my friends, the people who lift me up when I feel like giving up. To the staff, who smile at me when I walk down the halls. To my professors, who welcome me despite my bugging them daily for this reason or that. To my mother, who has taken on debt to support my pursuit of a college degree. To my stepdad, who tells me that I can be the change the world needs. I want to thank Saint Martin’s as a whole. This is an amazing school.

Thank you, Saint Martin’s University, for guiding me along the right path.

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