Ashante Pratt’s journey from college bound to college graduate was not an easy one, but a month after graduating, she said all her hard work paid off and the struggles to get to that point proved to be invaluable life lessons. Pratt, 23, graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA (grade point average) from The University of the Ozarks with a degree in graphic design in December 2019.
After graduating from Jordan Prince William High School in 2015, Pratt began higher learning studies at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in 2016, with three scholarships to assist with tuition – one from the MTSU, and two from the Bahamian Government. She also chose to live with her aunt, Kaye Pratt-Foy, who works at the institution, which she said made her transition from high school to college comfortable.
Declaring graphic design as her major, Pratt took classes that she said often challenged her but admitted that she thoroughly enjoyed the push and being able to learn from like-minded peers.
Life became difficult for Pratt when she lost one of her scholarships valued at $5,000 per annum, as it was no longer offered after 2017. That scholarship, along with the two others she had, totaled $28,500, which she said was a great help with her MTSU tuition, which ranged between $25,416 and $30,414.
Pratt found herself having to sit out a semester due to financial constraints. But she knew that she did not want to have to sit out longer than that, so she worked to save money to facilitate her return to university.
“Having to put my studies on hold was devastating as well as confusing for me, especially because I had been on the dean’s list since I started college. Another devastating result of this was having to leave behind the close friends that I made through MTSU’s Caribbean Students Association.”
During that semester, Pratt didn’t just sit idly, twiddling her thumbs. Instead, she focused on her entrepreneurial growth and graphic design business, True To Me Graphics (T2M), when she returned home to New Providence. She started T2M in 2017, making logos and flyers for small businesses as well as the Caribbean Students Association and her church.
Over time, Pratt’s services became in-demand and she began making cover art, videos, websites, business cards, among other items for local and international clients from different industries. The time away from university allowed her to expand her skills and business that she said kept her busy even when she returned to finish her studies.
Pratt re-enrolled in the University of the Ozarks (UO), Arkansas, in fall 2019, again with the help of scholarships, including the Ozarks Annual Grant Fund Scholarship for which she received $500 per semester. And even though it was her second university stint, it was her first time living on her own in a completely new environment, which she said she found nerve-racking.
“Because I was so comfortable with living with my aunt in Tennessee while going to school, this transition to living on my own in a new state was nerve wrecking. UO had a lot of Bahamian students as well, but all of them were younger than me and not seniors as yet. Also, the school was very small, so being a new student, you stood out amongst the already established friend groups. To top it off, the school didn’t necessarily offer the type of education I was looking for, but they were willing and able to tailor a program just for me.”
At UO, Pratt was an art major with a concentration in graphic design and a minor in marketing.
“On the marketing side of things, I learned so much exciting and useful things that have continuously helped me as a business woman. However, in terms of art and graphic design, a lot of the experience was taking my own skills and either presenting what I can do with it or pushing myself to learn on my own.”
During her three semesters at UO, Pratt presented business plans, websites, branding designs, and even paintings, noting that her advisor/teacher was especially helpful in the process.
“She taught me how to see things from so many different perspectives and supported me no matter what I wanted to accomplish. Through her support, I was able to take other graphic design classes and web design classes online at two separate institutes while attending UO,” said Pratt.
Pratt took advanced graphic design online at Franklin University, and web design tools online at Western Texas College.
“Being an entrepreneur and student at three different institutions at the same time all in a new environment was quite a radical shift for me. I would often just go to class and go back to my apartment and continue working until 3 a.m., only to do it all over again the next day.”
Pratt said her desire to help her parents, Tia Rolle, Roderick Pratt, and Marcellinus Rolle (stepdad) financially, and take care of whatever bills she could, pushed her work ethic because she had firsthand knowledge of what it felt like to watch something slip away due to the lack of finances. She was not about to allow her dream of being called a university graduate slip away.
“My desire to not go through that again fueled me to put my all into every area of my life – whether it was school work, my business, my mental health, or my spiritual life. I gave it my all.”
She said she often found herself being overworked and as a result even battled with anxiety during her last three semesters of college, but admitted that is what taught her the importance of balance.
“I became more strategic with how I worked and matured in my ability to know when to push forward and when to pull away,” she said. “My entire journey taught me many life lessons that I wouldn’t have learned this quickly if I stayed at MTSU and had a normal college experience. In the end, I graduated with a 4.0 GPA as summa cum laude of my graduating class.”
A part of her requirements as a senior, is that she had to enter two art competitions in Arkansas, which led to her art being displayed in one of their galleries. The overall winner will be announced on January 26.
The art Pratt submitted into the latter was a video she took of Coral Harbour beach, and digitally drew over it to display how the pandemic affected her as a student.
“I am beyond grateful for the many opportunities that came out of my college experience and I am even more excited for the ones ahead.”