First-generation College Student Fulfills Parents’ Dream, Says Coming to TSU Was Best Choice

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Ever since Amber Hawkins started going to school, her parents have encouraged her to fulfill a dream they weren’t able to achieve: to graduate from college.

On May 5, Hawkins fulfilled her parents’ dream. She was among nearly 1,000 students who received degrees when TSU held its spring commencement at the Howard C. Gentry Complex. Hawkins graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in English.

Amber Hawkins

The oldest of three, Hawkins is the first in her family to earn a college degree, and credits her parents and maternal grandmother, a schoolteacher for more than 35 years, for the motivation to succeed.

“My grandmother definitely inspired and motivated me about my education,” says Hawkins, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, who is graduating with honors. “Along with my parents, she constantly reminded me that school always comes first. And if anything comes before school, then it shouldn’t be in my life.”

For Hawkins, the journey has been more than about graduating from college. It’s been about pursuing excellence. And she says TSU has provided the environment to make her dream possible.

“Tennessee State University has been a phenomenal experience that allowed me to be the best I can be,” says Hawkins, an academic standout at Memphis’ White Station High School, who promised earlier in her academic career “never to settle for low grades” and to work hard to be the best at whatever she pursues.

At TSU, Hawkins graduated with a 4.0 grade point average, something she has maintained throughout her matriculation. She has received a full graduate assistantship to purse a master’s degree in higher education administration at William Patterson University.

“TSU has been a perfect fit for me since I first came on campus on a college tour. I felt welcomed, and that coming here I would be part of a family as opposed to being a number, and I have not been disappointed,” says Hawkins. “The HBCU experience has been very rewarding. I came here not know knowing what career path to follow, but with the care I received and participating in activities that enhance others’ life, I have definitely found an interest in working with students.”

Hawkins engaged in many campus activities, including a travel-abroad opportunity. She is a member of the Honors College, served on the disciplinary committee in the office of student conduct, worked in the Tiger Tutoring lab to help with student placement for faculty-peer tutoring, as well as worked with the university marching band as a support staff.

In her junior year, Hawkins won an opportunity to work with the United College Fund Career Path Initiative. In the same year, she traveled to Paris to study the works of renowned writers like James Baldwin and Richard Wright as part of her academic work.

Hawkins, whose ultimate goal is to become a college president, especially at an HBCU, said these activities, including working in the office of the vice president of student affairs as the chief student judicial officer for about three years, has spawned an interest to serve students.

“This career path makes me feel I am making a positive difference in someone’s life in inspiring other students and working with administrators in creating a conducive environment, so that students can thrive,” says Hawkins. “In doing that, I have come to the conclusion that being the VP for student affairs, preferably at an HBCU, would be the best means to achieve something I am very passionate about.”

As she leaves TSU, Hawkins is thankful to many she says made her journey possible through personal care, advising, mentoring and who “went the extra mile to make sure I was using my time wisely.”

“Professor (Kyle) Murray I will always remember,” says Hawkins. “He has been one of the most supportive faculty members that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting here at TSU. I can say that I would not have the drive, the dedication, and the confidence … as a student and be prepared to go out into the professional world without his support, advice, criticizing me, even when it hurts at times.”

Dr. Murray, academic advisor and instructor in the Department of Political Science, describes Hawkins as “ undoubtedly the best university student” he has ever worked with.

“From the day Amber arrived to our degree program, she has been driven and ambitious, but never in an egotistical way,” says Murray. “In sports, coaches often refer to apt players as very ‘coachable.’ I can easily say the same thing about Amber. Amber’s ambition was never to try and fit in to extracurricular organizations, but her sole focus, rather, was on developing her academic qualities in addition to contributing to this institution as a whole through direct service.”

For Hawkins, her goal is to develop a graduate research project around “HBCUs and What They Mean in the 21st Century.”

“Since I want to work at an HBCU, I felt like William Patterson has the appropriate spot for me to do that,” says Hawkins.

It’s students like Amber, and the class of 2018, that keep the legacy – think, work, serve – alive and thriving for TSU.

Department of Media Relations

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With more than 8,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 25 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at