My Path to Howard

By Chase Duffy

May 8, 2015 and the ACT

My entire life changed May 8, 2015. On this day, my father had a lower aortic aneurysm and passed away in our Sioux Falls apartment. When I got home at 4:00, my life exploded in front of my eyes. The man who was there for everything, my biggest motivator, the one who believed in me when all others doubted, was gone. The next month was a blur of sorrow, pain, and grief. I finished finals at school early, then spent the ensuing weeks with my family. On June 4, 2015 my life changed again, in a very different way. I had taken the ACT as a freshman and scored a 27; I had planned to take it each year of high school to chart my growth academically. My dad and I had been impatiently waiting for the sophomore year test; we had countless discussions about it, with him always ending the talks by saying, “if you can just get a 32, you’ll be set.” I wanted that 32 more than anything, but his death made the test even more important to me. The day came and went, and five weeks later scores came out. When I checked, I stared in disbelief at the computer: 33. There have been a few times since his death that I have distinctly felt his presence, and looking at that computer I could feel him standing behind me, smiling.

Learning About Howard

After telling my mother and celebrating a little bit, I got to work on searching out merit-based scholarships for high ACT scores. One online resource listed Howard University. This sparked my interest for two reasons. The university was located in Washington D.C., and it was one of the few full ride scholarships offered in the list. My goal in a university was free schooling in a large city, and Howard quickly jumped to the top of my list, tied with Fordham in NYC. I started junior year that fall, and I shuffled my schedule to include Modern Lit because the teacher seemed interesting. In that class, we read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. The book as a whole was a masterful commentary on race, but one twenty page section in the middle clutched my attention:

“Howard was in Washington D.C.–Chocolate City–and thus in proximity to both federal power and black power…. There were the scions of Nigerian aristocrats in their business suits giving dap to bald-headed Qs in purple windbreakers and tan Timbs. There were the high-yellow progeny of AME preachers debating the clerics of Ausar-Set. There were California girls turned Muslim, born anew, in hijab and long skirt…. The result is a people, black people, who embody all physical varieties and whose life stories mirror this physical range.”

How I could have been interested in Howard this long and not known it was 95% black, I do not know. To be quite honest, I had never heard the term HBCU in my life. This discovery excited me beyond words, and inspired a new wave of research. I found that Howard was one of the best HBCUs in the nation, and I searched accounts from white students at HBCUs. Almost every account I read was positive, (with the exception of one blatantly racist one) and this just furthered my resolve. If I got the scholarship I was going for, I knew I would end up at Howard.

Application and Decision Process

Since Howard’s scholarships are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, I got my ass in gear on the application. The CommonApp website opened to 2017 grads on August 1, 2016. I had my personal info done, my essay drafted and finalized, and my application sent to Howard by August 7,2016. After this, the process was all about patience. To tide me over, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first book, The Beautiful Struggle, as a choice novel in AP Lit. Though my father was 100% Irish and from a very different background, Coates’ focus on his father enthralled me and often brought images back of my own father. Paul Coates’ commitment to knowledge, and his immense love for his family through all circumstances rang true with my own Patriarch’s image. Meanwhile, I was nervously awaiting word back from Howard. Finally, the email that I was hoping for came. I was notified that I had been accepted, and was being offered the HU Founders’ Scholarship. I felt my heart bursting with joy, and could hardly contain my excitement. Five days later, I tweeted out my decision to attend Howard University and emailed all other schools notifying them that I wouldn’t be attending.  I felt a weight lift from my shoulders, and I don’t think I stopped smiling for a week.


I knew I had made the right decision when I went to Accepted Students Day at Howard. I flew in on a Thursday night, and flew out Sunday morning; it was the most fun I’ve had in 72 hours in my life, and I can’t wait to be back. Pablo was my host, but his friend Tahj showed me around. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Pablo is the one who encouraged me to start something like this website that you’re on right now. This single fact helps to illustrate Howard far beyond its partying reputation. Everyone is working towards a goal, and encouraging others around them to do the same. I’ll be completely honest with all of you though; I was a little bit scared. I’m a fluid person, but the anxious thought of not being accepted was in the back of my mind. To my delight, this anxiety was completely unfounded. As I had told myself before, people are just people, and I actually felt more comfortable and at ease at Howard parties than I ever did in a South Dakota party. The people and the atmosphere at Howard just kept reassuring me that I’d made the best decision of my life. Ever since I returned from ASD, I have wanted to be back at Howard.

One last thing that just recently happened made me further believe that my going to Howard was fate. My phone’s battery malfunctioned, and instead of getting it fixed I just switched my SIM card to my dad’s old phone. While I was going through his old pictures, what do I find but this:

saved to his phone in October 2010. My father never said a single word to me about Howard, and yet it is the only university pictured in his camera roll besides his Alma Mater. All told, I have the utmost joy, pride, and confidence in going to Howard, and I cannot wait for the experience to start.

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