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Authentik Beauty Magazine

Success & Beauty is an Attitude

C. G. Sturges Bio

Academic Excellence—Lessons Beyond the Classroom

 

When you see a person with a college degree we typically think that that person must be really smart. We think we can look at the classes that they have taken and the grades that they earned in those classes and this will give us pretty clear picture of their knowledge base and learning experiences.  A college degree doesn’t even begin to tell the story of a truly educated person. A degree merely shows you the application of the most important characteristics needed to succeed in life such as having a strong work ethic, being committed and dedicated to one’s dreams, possessing time management skills, and having a sense of honor and integrity of which none of these traits are found in a textbook or taught in the classroom.


In order to acquire academic excellence, I learned early in life that the most important lessons are never found in the text book or taught in the class room. But the lessons that you learn from the most difficult and painful challenges in your life are the lessons that build your character, give you honor, make you strong, and imbue you with wisdom that will ultimately make you an effective leader and give you the foresight to make a difference in this world.

I am going to share with you some of the most painful and challenging experiences in my life that made me who I am today.


I used to be a really good student all the way from elementary school up until the seventh grade. While in the sixth grade, I scored 11th and 12 grade reading on national test. I was a pretty smart kid. I was extremely silly, loved school, my teachers. I was always on the honor roll.


While walking home from middle school in the seventh grade, I was raped behind a church down the street from my parent’s home by a young man in my class. He pointed the jagged sharp edge from a broken glass seven up bottle to my throat as I begged him not to rape me. I explained to him that I was a virgin and that I wanted to wait until I was married before having intimate relations. And he said to me, “I don’t know why you are saving it, you are black and ugly and I hate the gap between your teeth.”  My back was scraped on the cement ground while he pulled me by my pants.


When I got home from school that day, my parents were horrified by my appearance and I told them that I had gotten into a fight with 3 high school girls who wanted my gym shoes.


The next day in school, the young man who raped me told the entire class during homeroom about the details of the rape and how I begged him to stop. I told the class that he was a liar and that he had tried to rape me but he did not succeed.


This lie became my truth. I never told anyone about being raped behind the church until much later in life. After this incidence, my grades began to drop. Teachers were asking my parents about how I went from being a mostly A student to struggling to get Cs and Ds.


I began skipping school, drinking alcohol, and partying with my friends. I had buried the rape incident so deep into my consciousness; I wasn’t aware of why I was failing in school. This behavior continued until the year that I was supposed to graduate from high school.


One day while skipping class, I heard the graduation class of 1984 singing, “We’ve only just begun” as the graduation song.  I felt sick to my stomach to thinking that I was supposed to be standing there with them.


The next day I went to talk to academic counselor to see what I could do to graduate from high school. The counselor looked up my transcript and said, “Ms. George, you only have 9th grade credit hours. I suggest that you take night classes at an adult education program to prepare to take your GED. I asked him whether or not it was possible to take my GED without attending adult education night school and he said, yes but since I had only accumulated 9th grade credit hours he didn’t believe that I could pass the GED Test without taking classes.


The next day, I looked into taking my GED. I paid the fee and passed the GED Test on the first try in June 1984 the same month and year that I was supposed to graduate from high school. The GED counselor insisted that I go to college because of my scores, but I told him that I didn’t enjoy going to school. He pressured me to fill out the paper work to attend Henry Ford Community College. I filled out paper work and attended my first semester at the community college just to get my GED counselor off back.


I was working at Little Caesars, my first job making $3.35 an hour. I knew that I wanted more out of life, but given that I hated school, I didn’t have a plan. One day while making pizza with man named Frank who was 57-years-old, he told me how he wished that he could afford to go to the dentist—“but school was not his thang.” I loved Frank. He had maybe two visible teeth in his mouth -- and the rest were rotten.


I looked at him, while we continued to make pizza together and said school ain’t my thang either.  He said without an education you will end up just like me. I felt dizzy I couldn’t believe that he was saying this to me. I was failing my classes at Henry Ford Community College and received 7 F’s my first semester.


I went home that night and I made a list of all of my skills, talents, gifts and abilities. Ok here we go--- I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t draw, I can’t paint, I can’t sculpt, I can’t play an instrument-- I began to sob, “God, I have absolutely no talent what am I going to do with my life!”


I decided that since I wasn’t capable doing anything else, I would go back to Henry Ford Community and re-take my classes because my GPA was a -4.0.

I fell in love with school this time. I felt I had nowhere else to go in order to better my life. I completed my associate’s degree at Henry Ford Community College.


When I became a serious student at Henry Ford Community I didn’t know how to find books in the library let alone write a research paper or know how to study. In elementary and middle school it was easy for me to memorize what the teacher said or what was in the text book. In college many classes had 3 and 4 books as assigned reading.

I spent my time in the Henry Ford Community College’s library.  Oh my God, I fell in love with the sound of the waterfall fountain and the smell of the books. The librarians were helpful and kind and I thought that if heaven even exists—this must be it.


Because I loved it there so much, I would walk the aisles and read book titles just for fun. This is where I found Harriet Tubman’s biography and a book about the Black Woman in America that forever changed my life. I had a favorite spot on the floor in the corner so that the sound of the water fountain would mask the sound of me crying.


In Harriet Tubman’s biography she talked about how every night she would pray to God to stop her master from beating her. But she said that it seemed like the more she prayed the more her master would beat her.  She decided that God was inside of her, and that He would only do the things for her that she could not do for herself so she decided to plan an escape from slavery. Secondly, she told herself that she would no longer think of herself as a slave, because she believed that her thoughts would create her reality. She said that in order to be a free person she had to think of herself as a free person.


Harriet Tubman’s first two attempts to escape slavery failed because she decided to bring her family along who changed their minds at the last minute or told others who blew their cover. On her third attempt to freedom, she told absolutely no one and put on a disguise as a crazy old man and successfully escaped the plantation.

Harriet Tubman became my first academic mentor even though she couldn’t read or write. Here is an academically illiterate woman who couldn’t read her own Wanted Dead or Alive signs who found her way to freedom—because she embraced the God of Action inside of her.


But this is not why I love her. I love Harriet Tubman because after finding her own way to freedom she came back and led over 300 slaves to freedom. I feel like if I had been Harriet Tubman, I would have been traumatized by the cold dirty rivers, the bugs, and the dogs chasing me. I think I would have become an alcoholic telling my story of horror-- of how I escaped to freedom to anyone who would listen.


Harriet Tubman reached out to me at Henry Ford Community College’s library and taught me 4 important lessons that weren’t in the textbook or in the classroom:


The first lesson that I learned is that I needed to truly put forth a real effort and try as hard as I could before God would step in. God would meet me at the library, He would meet me in the classroom—but he wouldn’t drag me there. God would help me to understand any subject matter but only after I had fallen asleep at the dining room table after burning the midnight oil. I learned that I must do everything within my own power that is humanly possible before God will step in to help me.


The second lesson that I learned from Harriet Tubman is that it is essential to define myself for myself. My thoughts about myself would project to the world how I should be treated. She had to think of herself as a free person before she could attract opportunities and the right people into her life to see her as she saw herself.  Whatever you truly believe about yourself will be manifested in your life- the world doesn’t argue with you. The world will just give you opportunities to validate your truth.


The third lesson that I learned from Harriet Tubman is what I call the Back Door Method. Harriet Tubman did not walk up to her master and say, “You know what I am really not into this slavery thing, so I will be leaving. Thank you so much for listening, Master Sir.” And then proceed to walk away. No Harriet Tubman took the spiritual back door. The front door of your dreams typically has a beaten path. The guards of the door have been appointed by society and they decide whether or not you are the right color, age, or gender for the job. They keep the people out that they don’t want to come in. But the back door is only guarded by the God inside of you. If you can’t get into Harvard, Yale, or the University of Michigan, you get into a college that will accept you. Two plus two is four around the world.


Be clear about what it is that you truly want out of life. Is your dream to go to the University of Michigan or to be an educated person? If your dream is to be on the campus of the University of Michigan you could achieve this goal by mopping their floors and cleaning their rest rooms. If your goal is to obtain your bachelor’s degree go to the school that will accept you, excel academically and I promise you that your dreams will come true.

I have always asked myself is there another way to achieve my goal, is there a back door that I am overlooking that will take me exactly where I want to go.


Harriet Tubman’s 4th lesson to me was when you have something important to do in your life many times you must go alone. When I first started school, I wanted my friends to come too, but we would sit and chat and before I knew it—time had passed and I had accomplished nothing.  In the beginning, if there was a big test coming up, my friends would unintentionally find the perfect distraction. I wanted them to come with me, and they wanted me to stay behind with them.

We come into this world by ourselves and we leave this world by ourselves. I learned that when I have something important and life changing to do, you must start this journey alone.


Black Woman in America

In the unassigned book about African American Women and slavery, I read that the enslaved African mother was required to nurse the master’s children and often times when she would come home from work-- there would be no milk left in her breasts to feed her own baby. For some reason, this passage not only caused me to sob uncontrollably when I read it, but it caused my soul to ache. This ache has never ever gone away and has been a fire in my belly that has given me the strength to move forward no matter how challenging the obstacles are. I feel that I must succeed for the collective spirit of the African slave mother, who muffled her tears while her master beat and raped- who came home with no milk left in her breasts to nourish her own baby. If it were not for her strength I wouldn’t be alive today. So I felt in my heart that I couldn’t let her down. Surely, my job is a lot easier than hers. So I studied that much harder. 


The major lesson I learned from this book is that in order to succeed it is important to find a cause bigger than you. When you can’t find it in your heart to do it for you – ask yourself whether or not you are taking for granted all of the sacrifices and suffering of the people who came before you. Then ask yourself whether or not you believe that your behavior and actions are moving humanity forward, backwards, or nowhere?

 

Research Paper on Marital Rape

I completed my associated degree then transferred to Northern Michigan University in the Upper Peninsula.

I was doing well academically. I had changed my major too many times to count, but I didn’t know what else to do and I didn’t know where else to be that would give me an opportunity to change my life other than school.

I was writing a paper on marital rape while at Northern Michigan University, and when I read an excerpt from the book where a woman described in minute details what it felt like to be raped, I remembered the rape behind the church and had a nervous break-down in the library.


Again, I was so angry with God, the library staff took me from the library to the nurse’s office as I cried and yelled at God, “Of all the places in the world, you let him rape me behind a church. God didn’t you hear me calling you!” I kept repeating this over and over again. When I spoke to the school psychiatrist, I told her that I needed an answer from God or I couldn’t continue on. I needed to know why He allowed me and innocent girl to be raped behind a church. I prayed to God to give me an answer.


A few weeks later while walking along the shore of Lake Superior there was a little gift shop with a sign on the door that said, “God’s Wounded make his best Soldiers.” I literally got goose bumps and began to cry uncontrollably. I knew that God was talking to me. I knew this was my answer and this gave me the strength to continue my academic education.


While pursuing academic excellence, I learned that the greatest lessons in life are not found in a textbook or taught in a classroom.


Prior to being raped behind the church in the seventh grade I was an excellent student. After being raped, I became a horrible student. It’s not that I did not have the intellectual ability to do the work; however emotionally, psychologically and spiritually there were other lessons that God wanted me to learn in order to reach my full potential.


The rape took me away from the academic world into what some people would refer to as the “school of hard knocks.”  Being taken away from what was easy for me to conditions that would test and strengthen my spiritual character would later teach me how to relate to people during their darkest hours and during their most trying times.


Lessons from Behind the Church

The rape behind the church taught me 5 primary lessons that make me who I am today.

The first lesson, I learned from my struggles is to never judge another person because you don’t know their back story. You don’t know what they have been through. You don’t know if every day they wake up, it’s a struggle to get out of bed and face the day. And if you walked a day in their shoes, you may not be the person you are today. I believe that people are always doing the best they can based on their spiritual development – no matter how it may look to me—because I am not their judge and jury.


The second lesson that I learned was how to be compassionate. 

The people who reached out to me and did everything that they could to alleviate my pain taught me the value of not only sympathizing with another person’s pain, but doing everything within your own power to help other people. I believe in giving a person a chance to succeed as long as they are willing to make a sincere effort. It is only by the grace of compassionate teachers, counselors, and strangers that I am where I am today. And I look for every opportunity to extend this compassion to others.

~~~

I did a home visit to a young biological mother who had nine children who live in a dilapidated neighborhood.

I was very thirsty when I arrived. The mother offered me a glass of Kool aid. I was literally knocking roaches off of my head.  I told her that I would get something to drink after the visit.

She insisted and told her daughter to pour me a glass of Kool-aid. The runny-nose little girl brought me the Kool aid in the dirty glass. I didn’t want to drink it, but I had to.

I had to drink the Kool-aid because I didn’t want that mother of those nine kids and that little girl to think for one second that I was looking down on them.

~~~

 

 The third lesson that I learned was patience.

For five years—8th grade, 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade, and 12th grade, I drank alcohol and skipped classes, but somehow by the grace of God, I managed to graduate on time the same month and same year as my graduating class. I have learned that people are ready to move forward in their lives when they are ready. Maybe not when you want it to happen, or how we think it should happen. The best I can do as an educator is provide them with an opportunity to prove to themselves that they are ready to move forward. My job is to be patient—they are not on my clock—they are on God’s divine time.


The fourth lesson, I learned was integrity.

When I was raped behind the church, I felt that that young man had taken my honor and dignity. I didn’t value myself because I felt tainted and worthless. When something is given to you, you never really question its value until you think it has been taken away. I learned that my integrity and honor as a human being is a divine right from God, and that what other people do is expression of who they are and has absolutely nothing to do with who I am. I learned that my honor and dignity is something that I choose to give away by my actions and words and how I treat other people.

 

~~~

While doing a home visit on the deep east side of Detroit, some guys was speaking to me in a very “ethnic” fashion as I was walking to my clients home.   “Heyyyyy Babygirl.” “Hey beautiful” these thugs yelled to me.

I thought to myself, “I am Ms. Social worker. I have my college degree. Don’t you see my briefcase?  Can’t you see that I am better than you? How dare you speak to me in that manner?


When I left my client’s home to get into my car--- My car was completely gutted. The radio, airbags, rims were gone. My windows were broken.


I was so angry. I wanted to quit my job. But that night, before I went to sleep I spoke with God. God reminded me that “integrity is about how you treat people—not how they treat you. Every person deserves the time of day—to be spoken to.”


From that point on when I would do home visits in the worst neighborhoods in Detroit, I always spoke to everyone with respect by looking them directly into their eyes. When they would say heyyy Girl, I would enthusiastically say, Heyyyy, How you doing today? What about those Pistons?”


They would say to me, “Baby we ain’t gonna let no body bother you.” And I would say I know because you are good people. I was never harmed and my car was never vandalized again the 13-years I worked as a social worker.

~~~

 

The fifth and final lesson that I learned was that in order to move forward in life and reach my full potential

I needed learn how to forgive. I needed to forgive the boy who raped me and the little girl inside me who had learned to hate herself. The rapist telling me that he thought that I was black and ugly and hated the gap between my teeth hurt me more than the physical rape itself. I hated my dark skin color and I hated myself. I never hated him as much as I hated me because—I couldn’t forgive myself for following a boy behind a church whom was a classmate that I trusted. I tortured myself with thoughts of how I should have fought harder or let him kill me.


I knew that if I didn’t find a way to forgive myself I would continue on a cycle of self-destruction and never reach my full potential. I went back behind the church where I was raped, and I forgave him, myself and God. One thing that I know in my soul and heart to be true, is that if you can’t let go of the past you will never move forward. When you forgive other people, you will find that others will forgive you. This lesson has always kept wonderful people in my life. I think you have to have an open, loving spirit to attract and keep good people in your life.


Travel lightly in this world because you are only here for a short time. Carry in your heart and your memories only the things that make you smile.

 

Master’s Degree Library Lesson

When I was working on my first master’s Degree at Eastern Michigan University, I accidentally arrived at the library at an earlier time than I expected. There was a   daylights savings time change that I had overlooked and the library was closed. I was shocked and confused because there was a crowd of Asian students waiting for the library to open.

I thought oh my God, this isn’t a shoe sale—why are they here? They were so excited as they chatted waiting for the library to open. I had never seen so many Asian people in a group setting so I wanted to figure out the dynamics of why I was the only non-Asian person waiting for the library to open.


I sat at a table so that I could observe them to see what they were doing. I couldn’t believe my eyes—they were actually studying.( I know can you believe it!) I had heard all of my life the stereotype that Asians are smart. So I grew up believing that their intelligence was either genetic or had something to do with the magic in their rice. But surely, they were not smart because they were in the library studying.


At this point I had received my associates and bachelor’s degrees, but this was my first semester in the master’s program at Eastern Michigan University, and I felt that God was teaching me a lesson that could not be found in the text book or the classroom, so I took notes and redefined my definition of smart.


To me a smart person is a person who can play video games all day; watch television all day; drink alcohol and use illegal drugs, never open a textbook or take notes in class, or attend class lectures-- but on test day—take an exam and score a perfect 100%.

 

But an intelligent person could be anyone and anybody who is willing to go to the library and study from open to close. An intelligent person is capable of prioritizing their goals and committing themselves to hard work and dedicating themselves to the completion of their goals whether it is to earn a degree, start their own business, or pursue a career as an entertainer.

I started competing with the Asian students by beating them to the library and refusing leave before they left. I had learned the mystical secret to academic excellence. Commit to a study schedule and keep it no matter what.

 

Doctorate Degree

After completing my first master’s degree, I started working on my doctoral degree in Sociology. I completed all of my course work, took my doctoral exams, and completed my dissertation proposal. I was unable to complete my doctorate degree because I rejected the sexual advances of my professor who chaired my dissertation committee.

I told the ombudsman what had happened and she told me that this person  was responsible for bringing in millions of dollars  in research funding and that the university would take his under any and all circumstances. The dean said that I would be committing what is called; “political suicide” and that I would never get my doctoral degree from that institution if I filed a sexual harassment complaint against my professor.


I was black balled after filling a formal complaint and was not allowed to attend other universities in the area, so I began looking for a back door.


I was able to enroll in a distance learning program when online schools were not popular—now they are everywhere. There was one catch; they didn’t have a sociology program, so I was required to start completely over. It took an additional 5 years at a new school to complete my doctorate degree.


I had already defined myself as Dr. Cassandra George Sturges in my dreams; and I couldn’t imagine telling people years later the sad-sob story of why I didn’t complete my doctorate degree.


When I felt discouraged, I worked hard for the slave mothers who could not nurse their own babies. I decided that no matter how long it would take for me to complete my doctorate degree, the same time would past whether I spent it watching television, complaining, or pursuing my academic dream.


My degree from  an online University in California was a key factor in me getting my dream job. I don’t know where I would be today, if I had given up. My application was selected from hundreds of other applicants because my department chair had just earned her degree from the exact same school. She told me that when she saw my resume she was curious to meet me.


Never ever give up on your dreams. There is absolutely no such thing as failure unless you stop trying. You will notice that the closer you get to your dreams the heavier and bigger the obstacles appear to be. These obstacles are filled with the life lessons that you need that are not found in the text book or taught in a classroom to give you the inner strength to carry the weight of your dreams.