Zaiendae Smith always hoped to pursue higher education in some form, but he doubted that a four-year university was in his future.
“I didn’t expect to go to college for a number of reasons,” he says. “I knew my parents didn’t have the resources to pay for my education. Plus, I doubted that I would even pass my audition. I didn’t think I was a good enough musician.”
Now a third-year piano performance major in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, Smith has come a long way. In 2017, he was accepted into VCU’s Department of Music, making him the first person in his family to go to college. VCU has been life-changing, Smith says, but navigating higher education as a first-generation college student hasn’t been easy.
“I’m trying to figure things out as I go along,” Smith says. “It just makes the process more difficult. Just getting the money I needed for school was a challenge. If I want help, I have to go and look for it myself. It’s a lot of knocking on doors and saying, ‘Hey, what help is available to me?’”