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She Overcame the Obstacles, and Now Alesia Ervin is Reaping the Rewards

Alesia Ervin remembers she was 87 days away from graduation when she gave a speech to supporters of Georgia State’s Women’s Philanthropy Initiative. The day she did this interview, that number was down to 31.

But just because she can calculate “days to graduation” with supercomputer speed doesn’t mean Ervin is desperate to put Georgia State in her rearview mirror. To her, that shrinking number isn’t a countdown to freedom, it’s a symbol of achievement — the kind that has come despite major hardships.

“To me, counting down the days is more like, ‘I made it this far and I only have this small chunk to go,’” she says. “Plus the fact that, everything I’ve been through, my goal is about to be a reality. It’s more encouraging regardless of whatever happened back in January of this year or in November 2009. I’m here. I made it.”

Three Surgeries, Cracked Skull, Broken Ribs: ‘The Best Thing That Ever Happened’

Hardship and struggle was something Ervin saw a lot of while living in her home state of Connecticut. And for those limited by a lack of a college degree, the challenges were that much greater. One life changing experience inspired her to change the course of her life for the better once and for all.

“At that time, I was a criminal justice major,” she remembers of the fateful night in November 2009. “For a class I had to do a police ride-along as part of my coursework. I was coming back home late at night, I was only seven or eight minutes away from my house.

“Even when I was on the highway, I remember falling asleep, but it didn’t register how dangerous that was until the actual impact. I woke up when my car crashed into a utility pole going about 70 miles an hour. The firefighters had to cut the door off, and I went to the hospital for eight days. I had three surgeries on my right arm, and two of those were emergency surgeries. I also had a cracked skull, damaged knees, and some broken ribs.”

Amazingly, Ervin describes the accident as “the best thing that ever happened” to her. “It jump-started my life,” she declares.

Laid up in her hospital bed with nothing to do but mess around on her brother’s laptop, Ervin came across a YouTube video in music producer Jermaine Dupri’s “Living the Life” series. A quote from the video really stuck with her: “A lifer is a person who can see beyond where they are.” And she was forced to admit to herself that the term “lifer” didn’t really describe her — she couldn’t see beyond where she was in part because she hadn’t bothered to look.

“I saw that video, and I started realizing I wasn’t living life like I wanted to,” she remembers. “This was the perfect opportunity to start creating new ideas, new dreams of where I want to be, new goals. From there I’ve just been pushing and pushing, regardless of whatever happens. It’s like I’ve been applying that motto in ‘being a lifer,’ going out there and doing stuff, achieving as much as I possibly can.”

Living Life, Not Just Enduring It

One of Ervin’s biggest steps toward being a “lifer” was to stop going through the motions of life and instead find something she was truly passionate about. Communicating with other people was one; music was another. Without knowing it, Ervin had been combining those two in the hours she’d spent on social media, helping to build buzz around independent musicians and watching them flourish.

“I started realizing, hey, I might have something here, if I’m helping to put independent artists in the Billboard Top 100,” she says. “I really love raising awareness about a person or product or some sort of event, so I started looking around at different fields, and I came across public relations. It wasn’t what I originally thought it was, but I realized it really fit me.”

As Ervin’s horizons got broader, her goals got higher. “Ultimately I still want to work with independent artists and startups, but I’m really interested in the whole world of intellectual property. I want to attend law school and work with artists and startups,” she says. “That way I’ll be able to help artists and startups protect what they have created, and at the same time I can raise awareness of that product through different methods. I’m looking, after I graduate, to take a year off and then hopefully be accepted into Georgia State’s law school.”

Choosing Better Over Bitter

Even with a fresh outlook on life, Ervin wasn’t done facing challenges. As her final year of college was about to begin, circumstances conspired to leave her without a place to live. She describes it as “an eye-opening experience,” one that showed her “nothing’s guaranteed” — but just as with the car accident, she was determined to turn it into something positive.

“I started fall semester a week late, and I found a new place to live my first weekend back in Atlanta,” she says. “The odds were against me, and even people close to me told me to sit the semester out, but I was too stubborn to listen to them and too determined to get back to Georgia State.” Her stubbornness came in handy and proved to be pivotal in her college career. “I’ll admit I can be stubborn. I prefer to call it ‘determination.’ I’m not going to let a person or a situation tell me ‘no’ when my heart is telling me ‘yes.’”

Despite her late start, Ervin finished the fall semester with four As and two Bs. She was also able to add the Women’s Philanthropy Initiative Scholarship to the list of scholarships that have powered her toward a college degree, despite having “literally seven dollars in my pocket” when she first arrived at Georgia State.

The lesson, one that Ervin is eager to share with other students, is “regardless of what happens in life, you have the opportunity and you have the power to create whatever reality you want. I’ve been through this whole college journey, and it’s taken me eight years to do a four-year degree. But the car accident, being temporarily homeless, it’s those situations that helped me to become better. Turn your situations into motivators, rather than being depressed and having a pity party.”

“Whatever I go through, I have a decision: to become a better individual or become a bitter one,” she says. “I’ve decided to mold myself into becoming a better individual. Taking a quick quote out of Ryan Holiday’s book, he said, ‘Every obstacle is an opportunity to improve ourselves.’ So that’s just how I’ve started looking at things.”