Many of the 200 people who attended the 2016 Scholarship Breakfast at Hillsborough Community College’s SouthShore campus in November had tears in their eyes by the end of a talk given by Tatianna Rivers about the tremendous struggles she has had to face.
But now, as graduation approaches, they can all call her victorious.
“I refuse to be a product of my circumstances,” Rivers said. “Attitude is everything. You have to make the best out of what you’ve been given, or you make excuses for what you don’t have.” The youngest of 11 children, she was raised by a series of relatives after the death of her dear grandparents, who had picked her up at the hospital when she was born and raised her until she was 9.
“Near the end of her life, my grandmother was very ill with Alzheimer’s,” said Rivers. “But from the beginning, she had pushed me to like to read and write and be social. She never got to college and was determined that I go.”
For a while, home health nurses came to the house but on Mother’s Day, when Rivers was 9, and the whole extended family was there, she died, leaving Tatianna to go live with “her Auntie.”
She had lots of kids and I got teased. I felt unwanted,” said Rivers. “They’d remind me I wasn’t living with my own parents.”
Sometimes, during the many times she moved from family member to family member, she said she not only felt unwanted, but went to bed hungry.
“I always felt I had to prove something just to be there,” she said.
For a while, she was with one of her older sisters, but then her husband was killed and Rivers was moved again.
“Faith played an important part of my life, and I had a best friend who was going through a lot of what I was going through, so I had someone to talk to,” Rivers, now 22, said in an interview at the college April 26.
She knows she is fortunate she was born healthy and nonaddicted because of her parents’ drug problems. In her speech, she said, “Being able to see them on weekends put icing on the cake.”
Although she always did well in school, she had some trouble reading and would be extremely embarrassed when asked to read, especially aloud in class.
She met this challenge with the same grit and perseverance as all the other challenges: She began reading things that interested her — books, magazines, anything that called to her — until her skills were honed enough to take on the textbooks.
And take them on she did, graduating from Howard W. Blake High School in Tampa with a 5.1 GPA and fourth in her class.
She remembered the importance her grandmother had put on education and realized she had inherited that same feeling.
She missed the Bright Futures Scholarship by two points, but she didn’t lose hope, and soon after, the HCC Foundation granted her a scholarship to study at its SouthShore campus.
By then she was focused, was “facing her fears” and dove right into HCC life.
She’s been the president, vice president, and marketing coordinator for the SouthShore Student Government Association (SGA) and is also a leader in the Collegiate 100 program. Because of this, Rivers has gotten to go to seminars and workshops in Washington, D.C., New York City, New Orleans and other places, courtesy of the college. She’s also worked on Welcome Back Bashes and diversity-themed events. Even better, she was this year’s recipient of HCC’s Presidential Award.
She has also mentored and tutored high school and elementary school students and volunteered with several nonprofit organizations, including the American Cancer Society.
“I would never have gotten to do any of this somewhere else at this stage of my life,” Rivers said.
She has since been accepted at the University of South Florida but has decided to stay at HCC, although she must go to the Plant City campus to get her nursing degree.
This month she will graduate from SouthShore with an associate’s degree in Allied Health.
“It’s a much wiser and responsible decision,” said Ashley Jeffery, community relations and marketing manager, who attended the interview on campus.
The decision was made mostly due to the fact that Rivers’ baby girl is due in May.
“I want to be the best parent I can be,” she said. “For a while, I will take the Bridge Program online and then head for a bachelor’s in Nursing, so I can work as a practitioner, while studying for my master’s in Nursing at the University of South Florida.”