Successes and Joys of Black Students

By Malaz Nour

Success is defined for me by its elusiveness. Sometimes it’s tangible: I can grasp it in the terms of money, grades, or works I want to produce within the year. Other times, it slips through my fingers as I contend with what I consider to be my source of happiness, contentment, fulfillment. Regardless of the kind of success I’m seeking, once one thing is accomplished—before I have the time to revel in what I have done—the goalpost shifts. It’s an endless chase. It can be exhilarating, but at an institution like the University of Chicago, more often it’s exhausting. That’s because success here is often rooted in comparison. I can be good, but I can never be great, or at least so I thought. It is the Black community of the University of Chicago that reminds me otherwise.

This past autumn quarter opened with a mixer hosted by the African and Caribbean Student Association and the Organization of Black Students, and as we all stood together in the finger-tingling chill, I caught bits and pieces of students speaking about what they wanted to achieve during the school year. These students had vastly different interests, hopes, and goals for themselves in mind, but regardless, I found comfort in the thought that we were all working towards something simultaneously. I revisited the students from the mixer as the quarter ended, hoping to know one of three things: what their version of success was, what their proudest success was, or what they envision for themselves in the future. The University of Chicago can be isolating in its competitiveness, we’re all striving to be the best version of ourselves for the sake of our futures, but to remember we are all doing so together is a community success in and of itself.

Kat Mokedi, Class of 2026: “Success is getting to a place where you feel content and accomplished with what you have.”

Alex Webb, Class of 2026: “Success [is] being able to find beauty and joy in the holistic truth of my life.”

Yannick Tanyi, Class of 2026: “My proudest success story since arriving at the University of Chicago would have to be the amount of confidence I have gained.…With how welcoming everyone here has been, I immediately felt comfortable—and with comfort comes confidence.”

Keegan Ballantyne, Class of 2023: “I want to become a sort of modern Renaissance Man and be well rounded in all my talents and skills. I would feel successful in the future to use those skills to better society on my own terms and through my own means. 

“Success is constantly falling down but being able to learn more about yourself and others as you get up. Success is never letting yourself be confined to anything at any time.”

Asa Muhammad, Class of 2026: “Success to me is to be fulfilled, whether that be professional fulfillment or personal. If I’m being more materialistic, though, it’s high ceilings, big windows, and print magazine subscriptions.”

Emmanuel Adewale, Class of 2024: “Honestly, in terms of future success I don’t really know what to expect yet, but what I do know is that I want to impact people positively with whatever work I choose to do, or in whatever space I’m in.”

James Roberson, Class of 2025: “I want to see myself doing exactly what I’m doing now, doing things that I enjoy with people that I love. I choose success every day. I don’t see that changing in the future.”

Matthew Ondeyo, Class of 2026: “I hope to continue to put myself in uncomfortable situations because that’s where I’ve had the most growth. I plan to successfully navigate corporate spaces because it’s all new to me.”

Max Ntalamu, Class of 2025: “Success is only true success when you learn from your mistakes and finish with the best outcome!”

Blake Harris, Class of 2025: “My first quarter of college was a bit of an adjustment from high school, but I’m really proud of the way I’ve adapted since then. I’ve gained a great work ethic, and my hard work is definitely paying off, both with my grades and also with the internships and research position that I’ve acquired.”

D’Jhanir Smith, Class of 2026: “My one goal in life is to be able to help people from a position where I can not crumble from pressure. From a position where my expertise is valued. Therefore my number one future success I would like to see for myself is a well-put effort producing desired outcomes.”

Narvella Sefah, Class of 2024: “Success to me is non-linear, I don’t think it’s simply a threshold that you must reach. Success is achieving the goals you have set for yourself, but importantly to me it must include physical and mental health. Success is living a life that is according to my purpose, and a life that is fulfilling. I think that I am successful now because I am happy, healthy, and achieving my goals that I set for myself and that as I continue to grow and learn, I will become more and more successful.”

Brandin Moore, Class of 2025: “True success is when you actively notice improvement in yourself. It’s being able to see the fruits of your labor after prevailing over your past mistakes. It’s a sign of personal growth, but it requires a willingness to change.”

Héloïse Vatel, Class of 2026: “I feel most successful when I’m reading and learning. I was always taught you can have anything material in this world, whether you’re poor or rich, [but] if you don’t have knowledge, you don’t really have anything. And I feel like that’s true. The things I have read have enriched my mind so much in a way that nothing material ever could. No matter what I have when I’m older…as long as I have the things I’ve learned from what I’ve read, I’ll have something.”

Vinessa Fressola, Class of 2026: “My definition of success would probably be making progress in one’s life towards a place that you want to be without sacrificing yourself or your peace.”

I’ve only been at the University of Chicago for a little over a year now, but I can say without a doubt that one of my greatest successes is being surrounded by, uplifted by, and supportive of the Black community here. Comparison has no home here when it is outmatched by the love shared here for others and their passions.