Stronger than meets the eye
Media Resources/Steven Doll
In a triumph of resilience over adversity, Jasmine Lucas lands an opportunity of a lifetime at her dream college. The two-year Summer Predental Enrichment Program participant, Gates Millennium scholar (and aspiring future TAMHSC-BCD student) shares her story.
We meet Jasmine Lucas in the middle of the third-floor hallway by the student development office. At first glance she appears like the average high school grad lounging away the summer before heading off to school. She’s got her cellphone in hand, sunglasses perched over her headband and earphones intertwined with her purse straps. We choose a quiet classroom to talk. She starts to tell her story, one she owns like a treasured family heirloom. It quickly becomes apparent there’s more to this soft-spoken young woman than meets the eye.
Ever since she can remember, Lucas and her mother have been unable to afford a permanent home. They were always moving. Always packing things into boxes, hurrying to load them up before the first of the month, hastily piling belongings into the truck before moving on to the next place.
Bills were always a struggle. Between rent and a car payment, she and her mother couldn’t always keep up. When they weren’t in government housing, they stayed with relatives. It’s early August when we talk, and even though Lucas and her mom finally have their own apartment in Garland, Texas, she still has some things boxed up, ready to go just in case.
On August 9, Lucas left her home yet again, but this was a planned departure. She traveled 12 hours to her new residence, one where she’ll stay for the next four years: Spelman College in Atlanta. The Gates Millennium Scholar, former Summer Predental Enrichment Program participant and Future Dentist Club member got into her dream school, and she was able to pay for it with the coveted scholarship, which covers all of her education costs.
How did she do it? As we learn from our conversation and excerpts from her scholarship application essays, Lucas achieved success through resolve, good sense and hard work. Barely 5-feet tall, Lucas is proof that strength and resilience can often come in petite packages, complete with skinny jeans and ballet flats. This is her story.
“We tried to live in the house in Sulphur Springs, Texas. It was horrible. I had been working and didn’t get off until 11 p.m. or later. We didn’t make it home until about almost 2 a.m. Then I would need to do my homework, shower, eat, etc., so I didn’t go to bed until about 4 a.m. Then I had to get back up at 6 a.m. and do the whole thing over again.”
Lucas is a time management queen. Throughout high school, she faithfully caught the bus to “Fiesta Mart No. 72” at the end of the day, where she would report for her 5 p.m. shift as a cashier. On Saturdays, she’d work from 2 to 11 p.m., and on Sundays, Lucas would head straight to the store after church. During that little bit of free time on the weekends, she’d do the entire week’s ironing. That way, when the alarm went off on school mornings, all she had to do was get up, brush her teeth and go. She wasn’t the only one making sacrifices. Her mother drove Lucas 90 minutes back and forth each day so she could continue attending Dallas’ Townview Magnet Center.
Then there were some early afternoons spent at Brighter Tomorrows, a women’s shelter where Lucas volunteered as a teacher’s assistant, kissing boo-boos, disciplining the kids, even leading the class of 20 on her own for two months when the teacher unexpectedly quit.
The marathon weeks were exhausting.
Somehow, Lucas managed to graduate with a 3.5 GPA, and by summer, the 50-hour workweeks at Fiesta had paid off. In early August she received a promotion and a raise. Best of all, in less than two weeks time, she’d be leaving it all for prestigious Spelman College, America’s oldest historically black college for women.
Lucas, center, with two of her cousins at Spelman College
Photo courtesy Jasmine Lucas
“Many times in 2011 I cried myself to sleep, cried to the point where I had a massive headache. I asked, and thought over and over, ‘Why me?’ or ‘What did I do wrong to receive this?’ I thought I was a good kid; I worked, volunteered and was doing well at school. Many times I just thought about giving up the fight. However, there were even many more times I thought about those who had it way worse than me.”
Handling high school can be tough on any teen. There are classes, peer pressure, prepping for college entry exams, and for some, after-school jobs. Lucas’ wasn’t just for extra spending money, either. Much of what she made went to help family members with car payments and bills.
And when she did spend time with friends, it was at the mall. Lucas found creative ways to make sure they always hung out in public places, since none of her friends or teachers knew about her situation.
The weight of it all was a lot to bear.
“Some nights I would be so sad, like ‘it’s the end,’” Lucas says. “But each time I woke up, I’d be like ‘it’s a new day.’
“I never would just sit there and think about what happened the day before.”
Instead, she found ways to occupy her time and give back, like during Operation Care’s annual Christmas Gift for the Homeless in Dallas, where she registered hundreds of families so they could receive coats, sleeping bags, personal items and food.
The experience taught Lucas to appreciate what she has.
“In my dental assisting class, which I have been in my junior and senior year, we learn about the field of dentistry, and we also intern at our high school’s health professions dental clinic. We deal with real people and work with a terrific and intelligent doctor from Baylor College of Dentistry. ... This is something that I know I want to do when I grow older. Dentistry is my deep, imbedded passion.”
Ever since she can remember, Lucas has enjoyed going to the dentist and orthodontist. So when a few friends suggested she try the college’s Summer Predental Enrichment Program the summer after her freshman year, she jumped at the idea.
The next summer, Lucas came back again.
“When I came here after sophomore year, I just knew this is what I wanted to do,” Lucas says.
“I saw the students walking around and thought, 'Yeah, that’s going to be me.'”
Willie Alexander, education program coordinator in student development, first learned of Lucas’ unique challenges from one of her SPEP application essays.
"Jasmine’s life experiences taught her to take every given opportunity and to appreciate it,” Alexander says.
And then Lucas enrolled in the dental assisting cluster at her high school. It was there she worked with Dr. Ernestine Lacy, executive director of student development and multicultural affairs, who also sees patients at the high school’s health professions program dental office, where she teaches and mentors students.
“There just was a very conscientious student, a very focused student, and I think the kind of student who shows she has potential to be a phenomenal and conscientious dentist,” Lacy says of Lucas. “I’ve been impressed.”
Lucas’ two dental school choices come fall 2016: Howard University College of Dentistry or Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry.
“The lingering of poverty has had a hold on my family for far too long. I will set a new tradition for all my little cousins to follow. I know for a fact that all of the obstacles I have endured over the years of my life have just made me a stronger woman.”
On Aug. 9, Lucas, her mom, aunts and cousins piled into a van for the 12-hour road trip to Atlanta. Since then, she’s enjoyed some newfound free time. Thanks to her scholarship, Lucas doesn’t have to work. Her plan for freshman year: get her GPA really high. That way, come sophomore year, she can dive into clubs and community service and not worry if her grades slide a bit.
That is, with one stipulation.
“I want to have a résumé good enough to go to dental school.”
Spheres of influenceEven though Jasmine Lucas and her mother, Alethea, didn’t always have the easiest living situation, there was one constant: structure.
Her mother was always involved.
“My mom has had a pretty big impact,” says Lucas. “She is a big support system. I will tell my mom about my whole day at work. And she‘ll sit there and give me advice. She knows my manager, she knows my friends. She’s very involved with everything I’m doing and who I hang out with.”
She’s also Lucas’ biggest champion.
“She always said, ‘Your rewards are your rewards, and your consequences are your consequences,’” says Lucas. “She really drives me and wants the absolute best for me. She wants to see me succeed. It says a lot to have a mom like that.”
As Lucas worked toward her high school degree, her mother achieved an accomplishment of her own: She recently became a licensed vocational nurse.
The two would sometimes stay up late together studying, talking about possible scholarships, encouraging each other.
"She kept going and finished,” Lucas says of her mom’s own milestone this spring.
“I almost cried at her graduation, when I saw her walking down the aisle. She was happy, and the whole family came. It was nice.”