Everyone has a story to tell. For 23-year-old Kiamata Dukes, her story is one of failure, heartache, resilience and determination. This Fort Valley State University Wildcat had to fall down in order to learn how to get back up again.
Before walking across the stage on May 5 to receive her bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics, the Crosby, Texas, native first faced adversity as a freshman in 2012 at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. She flunked out the first semester, losing her financial aid and dorm room on campus.
“I was not ready for college,” Dukes said. “Going from a sheltered child to having all of this freedom was mind-blowing. I had no self-control.”
Born into a family of educators, the youngest sibling of four girls felt ashamed to return home. “You really have to face yourself. Some people cannot handle it. I prayed so hard that I cried. I went home and really made up my mind that college is something that I want to do and I want to be successful. I want to be that person who adds value to my family, not take away from it,” Dukes said.
Determined to get her grades back up, the Texan enrolled in Lamar Institute of Technology (LIT). She walked to school every day and worked at a local deli and the apartment complex where she resided to pay for her rent. “It was God’s favor that really helped me move along,” Dukes said.
However, she faced another hardship when her father, a community college professor, died in 2014, a day after he completed his doctorate. “I was going through a lot. I had just finished the year and a half to get my grades up and had enough credits to transfer,” Dukes said.
With everything going on in her life, she decided to move to her parents’ home state. “I always loved visiting my family in Georgia and knew I wanted to live here,” Dukes said. Her older cousin, who works for the Dublin City School District in Georgia and helps with recruitment to FVSU, encouraged her to apply to the 1890 Land-Grant University and pursue an agricultural economics degree.
“I was just looking for a new beginning and I always wanted to go to an HBCU (Historically Black College and University),” Dukes said. Receiving an out-of-state waiver, Dukes officially became a part of the Wildcat family. “Faculty and staff will move mountains for you if they can. This school was really for me,” she said.
Once at FVSU, Dukes said all doors began opening up. Her grades improved and she felt she chose the best degree to suit her aspirations of becoming a high school agricultural or science teacher, as well as an entrepreneur in the beauty industry.
At first interested in pursuing a business degree, Dukes never thought about agriculture. She mentioned that several of her cousins received an agricultural degree at FVSU. “When you think about agriculture, it is a billion dollar industry. It feeds the world. It is the best business degree out there,” Dukes said.
Appreciative of the many opportunities at her alma mater, the agricultural economics major gained experience by attending conferences, studying abroad and interning with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Michigan.
In addition to learning professional development skills, Dukes served as president of the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) chapter on campus, section leader of the Blue Machine Marching Band and a member of the band’s sorority, Tau Beta Sigma. She plays the flute, piccolo and just recently, the trombone.
Dukes encourages other students to trust the process. As she looks back on her journey, she becomes emotional. She said it is a good feeling knowing she persevered and can now call herself an FVSU graduate. “I am not a quitter. That is what I really learned about myself. When I really want something, I am going to go get it. I am determined and hardworking. I had to prove it to myself that I could do it,” Dukes said.
The agricultural economics program at FVSU prepares students for professional positions in sales, service, merchandising, management and analytical and statistical work with private and public agricultural-related businesses and agencies. For more information, visit https://ag.fvsu.edu/departments/ag-sciences/agricultural-economics.