GRAMBLING, La. — When Ayeisha Gipson walked up to receive her history degree Thursday, the new Grambling State graduate fulfilled her mother’s dying wish.
“You’re going to have to keep going because time doesn’t stop. I lived my life, now you live your own life,” Gipson’s mother, who was seriously ill, advised before she passed away in March.
And now although it feels as if part of her is missing, Gipson is headed to an Ivy League school to live out her dreams. The San Diego native will pursue a master of arts degree in higher and post-secondary education at Columbia University in New York.
“As bad as I prayed and helped with any medical procedures she went through, she was dying,” Gipson said of her mother. “Each semester I came home, it progressed. I struggled finding peace about it while smiling on campus to maintain a front.”
Now Gipson’s goal is a career through which she can serve students, particularly those like her. Raised by a single mom, she grew up in a tough neighborhood. And Gipson started college when she was well into her 20s and needed help to pay for it.
“My mother worked in education for my whole life until she got ill and retired. I’ve watched my mother help college students or anyone who needed help, specifically with homework and/or employment opportunities. I want to be like her.”
And one day what started as a discussion about scholarships turned into a lesson in paying it forward. Virginia business owner Jeff Motem, a Grambling State alum and fellow San Diego resident, said during that conversation he was struck by Gipson’s honesty, maturity and determination.
“I know where she’s from,” he said, adding that he decided to regularly help out with some of Gipson’s college expenses.
“If you’re taking care of your business, I’m going to keep investing in you,” he told her.
It came down to the fact that he had help along the way and he wanted to give back, Moten said. “We all need help. We all need mentors and guidance.”
Gipson did not disappoint. She exceled academically as well as in service.
While at Grambling State, Gipson was active in Kappa Delta Pi (an international honor society in education) and served as vice president of the Grambling chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and as associate justice and chief justice of the Student Government Association. She was also a contributing writer for The Gramblinite, the campus newspaper.
Grambling State held its spring commencement Wednesday and Thursday, April 14-15.
Gipson said she had mixed emotions as she prepared to graduate on the second day of the exercises.
“I am a bit nervous because I am really going to be on my own, transitioning to NYC. However, I am happy, looking forward to a new chapter.”
Gipson also said she is looking forward to growth and opportunities at Columbia. “I want to be able to connect Grambling students with Columbia University and introduce them to opportunities applicable to them.”
She compares her college journey to “The Wiz” or “The Wizard of Oz”.
“Dorothy was determined to get to Oz. Yes, she faced challenges, learned from them and met people along her journey,” Gipson explained. “At the end, she made it to Oz. That’s my story. I went through tough times but learned a lesson out of it and made it to my destination. I met amazing people along the way.”
Gipson said she’s thankful to everyone who has helped and supported her along the way to completing her degree. “I want to thank my professors, cafeteria workers and even maintenance for being there for me when times were difficult.”
She explained that she often spent long hours on classwork at the Tiger Den. “They were so nice to me and allowed me to handle my business because I didn’t have a laptop at the time, so I thank them.
“I also want to tell students that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from,” Gipson continued. “It’s about the obstacles you’ve been through and your ability to work through them. Remember, the journey is the treasure!”
Below are videos of Grambling State’s commencement exercises April 14-15, 2021. Gipson graduated on the second day. (That’s her about an hour and seven minutes into the second video.)