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August’s Extraordinary Leader: Growth Through Heartache

Oct 01st, 2015

August’s Extraordinary Leader: Growth Through Heartache

Jasmine Williams keeps the note from Dr. James Stitt on her refrigerator. She got it last week. She expects to keep it there for a long time.

She knows Stitt and respects him. She met the history professor a few months ago when she was inducted into Alpha Chi, the national college honor society that recognizes the top 10 percent of a senior class.

She still remembers what Stitt said during the induction ceremony.

“Never settle for the dreaded word – average,” he told the inductees.

Williams doesn’t. She is a Student Justice, a member of the Student Alumni Council and a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Piedmont.

She also is a supervisor at HPU’s Survey Research Center, vice president of the school’s chapter for the National Association of Black Journalists and president of Lambda Pi Eta, the national communications honor society.

But Stitt didn’t write her a note for all that. He wrote her a note for her most recent accomplishment: HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of August.

That note, she says, will keep her going.

But she has learned how to keep going at HPU.


HPU Reaches Out

Her heartache started two months after she arrived at High Point University.

She was watching her favorite pro football team, the New York Giants, on TV when her mother called from the courtyard outside her residence hall, University Center 2.

Williams and her brother, Tehran, when she was young.
Williams and her brother, Tehran, when she was young.

Williams knew the visit was odd. Her parents live in Montgomery Village, Maryland, a six-hour drive from HPU. But when she stepped outside and saw her mom’s face, she knew something was terribly wrong.

Her mother told her that her brother Tehran died from an asthma attack. Immediately, Williams went numb. Her brother was her hero. He took her shopping, loosened her up, called her “Nookie,” and convinced her to pull always for the Giants.

And now he was gone. He was only 29.

She dove into school to get her mind off her heartache. She became a Student Justice, she mentored a young Hispanic boy and joined the Student Alumni Council where she eventually became the vice president of external affairs.

She did it to heal. She also did it for her brother. She knew what he would say if he saw her, his “Nookie,” wrestling with missed memories.

“This is not you,” he’d say.

But her heartache didn’t stop there. Two years later, her Aunt Beverly and her maternal grandmother she called Nanny died within a month of one another because of vascular complications.

But with every death in her family, she got help from High Point University.

Her roommates packed her for the trip home. Her professors helped her make up missed work and exams. She got more than a half-dozen phone calls – everyone from her resident director to Dr. Dennis Carroll, the school’s provost; Gail Tuttle, the Senior Vice President for Student Life; and President Dr. Nido Qubein.

After her brother’s death, her family received funeral bouquet for the memorial service, and she received an HPU blanket with a note.

Three years later, she still can recite the note word for word: “To comfort you in your time of need and grieving.”

For Williams, those little details were huge. So, last year, before she received the P.E. Lindley Memorial Scholarship for the second time, she stood in front of her mirror and practiced her acceptance speech 20 times a day for at least a week.

She practiced in front of her roommate, and she called her mom and dad in Maryland and practiced with them on the phone. She wanted to make sure she got it just right.

She knew what she had to say.

Thank you.


An Appreciation Of Grace and Kindness

That speech led to more speeches. She spoke two more times on campus, in front of the faculty and staff. Each time, it got harder. But when she felt she was about to lose it, she would say to herself, “Take a second, take a breath.”

But as painful as it was during those few minutes behind a podium, she felt a responsibility to tell audiences what HPU had done for her.

“I think people don’t know what the school does in situations like that,” she says. “The words – inspiring environment with caring people – are not just words.  That is what this school is all about.”

And the school has continued to reach out. On her first day back in August for her senior year, she got more bad news: Pop Pop, Nanny’s husband, had died from pancreatic cancer. He was 73.

After his death, the calls came.

Add to that the death of her dog in March – Brandy, a Rhodesian Ridgeback her family had had since she was a sixth-grader – and her time at HPU has been filled with tough poignant moments.

But she also has discovered grace and kindness. She saw her school reach out in every way. Her school made her stronger, enough that on Mother’s Day in May she and mother got matching tattoos on their feet.

Their matching tattoos were two words: Be brave. They are. Williams, a journalism senior, a 20-year-old woman with a heart condition, always will be.

“I’ve surprised myself with the person I’ve become,”’ she says. “Every single experience, good or bad, has totally prepared me for who I am today. For that, I am extremely grateful. I truly can look back and say, ‘I have grown.”