This evening (November 28, 2018) will see the premiere of the new feature documentary Unlikely, a film following the journey of five students as they work to surmount the barriers they face in pursuit of a post-secondary degree. One of Unlikely’s stars is Kalif Robinson, a second-year MSFS student. Here, he describes what it was like to be involved in the film and reflects on his experience as a student from an underrepresented community within tertiary education.
An Unlikely Set of Events
Growing up, whenever I heard of Georgetown it was always mentioned in the same breath as Harvard or Yale and the professions of doctors, lawyers, and politicians. I never imagined myself being affiliated with any of the aforementioned. Fast-forward through several improbable years later and here I am, a Georgetown graduate student.
Another unimaginable aspect of my journey to Georgetown has been my role in the full-length documentary Unlikely. Unlikely investigates America’s college dropout crisis and other systemic higher education issues. The documentary is mostly shot through the eyes of five diverse students as they fight for the completion of their undergraduate degrees in the face of a litany of barriers and challenges. Each of the students experiences challenges faced by underrepresented and underprivileged students within higher education. I am one of those five students.
The filming for Unlikely took place in the Spring semester of 2017, my last semester at Georgia State University. During my time in undergrad, I worked at the university advisement center. The faculty, staff, and my mentors at the center were instrumental in providing me with the support I needed to graduate. These same mentors put my name forward for Unlikely, to represent Georgia State University and all of the great work it has been doing to help students who often slip through the cracks of the fractured higher education system.
The interview process for the documentary was intense. The film crew took shots of me all over Atlanta and at my parent’s home in Stockbridge, Georgia. The questions I was asked ranged anywhere from surface level inquiries to deep dives into how I see the world and how that perspective has shaped who I am and want to be. My family was also filmed, and I am happy to say that my mother and father are in the documentary. The interview process gave me a chance to reflect on my collegiate journey and the many challenges and successes I had. The film crew even filmed me on graduation day, an added bonus to a monumental point in my life.
A Closed Chapter
From working 2 – 3 jobs to support myself, navigating through the fog of self-doubt, and trying to figure out how to pay off mounting student debt, college sometimes seemed like more of a burden than a privilege. However, I persevered with the help of family, friends, mentors, and a motivation to be the change I wanted to see in my life. By the time of graduation, I had traveled abroad on a competitive scholarship, obtained over a 3.9 GPA, and graduated with a prestigious fellowship that guarantees me entry into the U.S. Foreign Service this upcoming June.
The Next Chapter
My transition into Georgetown’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program was complex. I graduated from Georgia State University in May 2017, spent a few months on Capitol Hill, and then moved to Arlington, Virginia, away from family and friends, to begin my graduate studies. My non-traditional MSFS background, coupled with my race, socioeconomic status, and other characteristics made Georgetown extremely foreign to me. On top of this, I came from a relatively massive public university in the South. I immediately noticed the difference in the academic style and rigor of an elite private institution like Georgetown University. Despite these challenges and differences, I have found mentors, classes, and friends that have enabled me to flourish. I believe my background and experiences bring an added and crucial voice to contemporary foreign policy and international affairs discussions and debates.
The barriers and challenges I faced during my undergraduate career have made me who I am today. I am stronger for it and I am grateful to now be able to use my story, access, and platform to help and inspire others.
I am a first-generation college student and, according to statistics, my background says I shouldn’t be where I am today. Despite the odds, I have achieved much success. I agreed to be in this documentary with the hopes that my story will serve as an example to people who may not think college is doable or even possible. I hope my story, along with the other incredible stories in the documentary, inspires students to never give up on their academic pursuits. I hope students of color realize that they are not struggling alone and that there are people who deeply want them to succeed. I hope educators and policymakers walk away from the film with new ideas on how to address higher education issues.
As the film title suggests, my journey to Georgetown was highly unlikely, but I made it happen with hard work and the help of some phenomenal people. As Nelson Mandela once said, “it always seems impossible until it’s done.” I hope this film helps people realize that they have what it takes to get it done, whatever it may be.
by Kalif Robinson (MSFS ’19)