Starting in sixth grade, Raygene and her brothers lived several years in Chicago shelters under the careful, watchful eye of her mother. "I admire her," Raygene says. "She never left my younger brothers and me alone, and always made the best of the situation."
The family moved out of their last shelter when Raygene was in eighth grade. She promised herself that she would always make her mother proud.
Today Raygene is a bright, energetic, and outspoken freshman at UIS, with opinions on world affairs, politics, and government policies—opinions she backs up with facts and insight far beyond her years.
How does she know so much? "Debate!" she says.
In high school, a teacher heard Raygene participating in class—"I was passionate," she says—and he asked her to join the debate team, which he coached. Her role on the team fed her hunger for learning and helped her qualify for summer internships and other honors throughout high school.
Her hardships weren't over, however, and it was her teachers' encouragement and attention during the "heavy times" that convinced her to become a teacher. "They came to my house," she says. "They stayed and stayed after school to help with my stuttering—long after the speech therapists had stopped." She even remembers one of her teachers crying on the bathroom floor at school with her.
"People tell me I should go into politics," she says, "but no. I want to changing the world, one classroom at a time. Teaching is more than just the curriculum. It's helping students understand themselves so that they can be somebody. I want to do that for my students."
To be a teacher, she needed college, but the money concerned her. "Most schools," she says, "offered some kind of loan that my mother was supposed to pay for, but she doesn't have money like that.
"Even UIS," Raygene says. "When I got my first financial aid statement from UIS it had two kind of steep loans. I kept thinking about having to pay that back. Then I got a letter saying that Brad and Jen Ward had given a scholarship that UIS would give me, and when I looked at my new financial aid statement, it cut down a lot on the loans. My mom was so proud."
Raygene realizes there still may be hardships ahead of her, but she is determined to fulfill her dreams. "Because of the scholarship," she says, "I can't fail now. You saw something in me—she needs this—and I can't let you down. I won't."