Finding Support When Most Needed
Tommieka Texiera ’96
Tommieka Texiera ’96 holds her son, Giovann, at the Sundial.
On a brisk January night in 2002, just a few days before my
30th birthday, my then–10-year-old son, Giovann, and I
headed up the West Side Highway in my small black Dodge Neon
with the gaudy gray bumpers that I bought in 1995 as a junior
at the College. That night, “ol’ Betty” was
filled to capacity with our clothes, housewares, TVs, computer
and, of course, “His Honor’s” Nintendo GameCube
and Sony PlayStation, with all the games and contraptions. As
we rounded the corner of West 121st Street and Amsterdam Avenue,
I could feel Giovann’s air of anticipation as he looked
out the passenger window from behind the mountain of down pillows
I had stuffed onto his lap.
Our journey ended in front of 509 Bancroft Hall at Teachers
College. “Here we are!” I shouted in my high-pitched,
maternal voice. Yet, nothing could have prepared me for the
next life-changing moment. As I turned off the ignition, Giovann
hugged the pillows on his lap and gently said, “I love
my life.” We were back home at Columbia! I was pursuing
my master’s in physical education, and in some sense,
starting over. I knew that this was a great sign.
In 1991, I entered the College at a delicate stage in my life.
I had graduated from St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H.,
where I had been a class officer and tri-varsity athlete, and
I was in New York City permanently for the first time in four
years. Without an emotionally supportive mother or father and
lacking friendships in the city after being at boarding school,
the Morningside campus became a refuge for me — a place
where I could start anew. But by early November, even though
I had made new friends and started pre-season training with
the women’s basketball team, my transition became increasingly
difficult, and I decided to take a voluntary leave of absence
to sort out the issues in my life. I did not realize at the
time of my leave that I was pregnant.
I found out about my pregnancy in January 1992, two months
after I left school. In the doctor’s office after my examination,
I stared at the oatmeal-colored walls and thoughts raced through
my mind: “How could this happen to me now? Can I really
have a baby? What about school, money, and although I’ve
been dating my boyfriend since I was 11, I’m not even
married, right?” Oh, the horror I felt as I waited for
the technician to perform a sonogram. Then something special
happened. In walked an over-zealous sonogram technician, as
bubbly as they come, an angel of some sort. Without judgment,
he graciously showed me all of Giovann’s body parts and
his little beating heart. I could not believe how beautiful
he was, and I fell in love. On that day, I made the hardest
decision of my life — to not abort.
My pregnancy was a sign of failure to almost everyone, except
the most important person: me. I received minimal support from
my family. After I dried my tears of rejection, I decided to
use my God-given intellect and I made a plan to save not just
one life, but two. I applied for re-admittance to the College,
registered for parenting classes at a local hospital and read
everything I could get my hands on about babies and parenting.
Giovann was born on August 13, 1992. Three weeks later, I
matriculated for 12.5 credits and started classes with my son
in tow. I can remember how unsure I felt walking up the steps
next to John Jay with my books and Giovann in a carrier. I was
19 years old and a student at Columbia College — with
a baby. I heard negative voices and thought to myself: “What
will people think of me? I’m a loser and a failure, right?
A disappointment.” I fought back those thoughts and my
tears, however, and walked up those steps onto campus with my
head held high because I knew otherwise. Failures, losers and
disappointments do not gain admission to Columbia College.
I remember sitting in chemistry classes in Havemeyer
Hall breastfeeding my son under a diaper. Male and
female students were “wowed” by the
fact that I was in class with an infant. They always
were supportive, and were somewhat surprised by
my commitment to my studies.
My first dean, Donna Badrig, treated me with love
and support, like a favorite niece. She did not
judge me, but rather was sensitive to my academic
and emotional needs. Great professors were understanding
about my needs as a parent and allowed me to fax
in papers if my son was ill, all the while holding
me to the same academic standards as my peers. Even
the Core Curriculum was a tremendous foundation
for me as a mother, as I delved into dialectical
thinking and Platonic ideas about the roles of women
and children in society with Professor Elizabeth
Barden-Dowling in Contemporary Civilization. I even
was inspired to buy Baby Beethoven for my son after
learning about the benefits of classical music in
Music Humanities with Professor Steve Sacco.
During those years of commuting from Brooklyn with my son,
I learned a great deal about ambition and the human will to
overcome obstacles and achieve a goal. I benefited from being
part of an academic community that at every turn was full of
mentors as well as cheerleaders. On the days when I felt guilty
about needing help, I would sit along College Walk with the
neighborhood mothers, exchanging life stories and wisdom. I
always walked away feeling empowered as a woman and a mother.
Encouragement from a 65-year-old Japanese grandmother prompted
me to try out, and briefly play, for the women’s basketball
team in 1994. She would tell me every time I saw her: “You
have youth, go play ball!”
My last two years at the College were a bit tumultuous as
the academic requirements intensified. It seemed that the closer
I came to proving all of the naysayers wrong, the more negative
energy confronted me. Yet, in the true form of a Columbia Lion,
I endured those rough times and managed to graduate in May 1996
with a bachelor's in political science, finishing in four years.
Giovann was in attendance, and he may have been the proudest
graduate of them all!
Eight years later, as a Columbia graduate student, this great
and diverse academic community continues to inspire me to achieve
great things in life, no matter what my circumstances may be.
I have met friends and mentors who advocate for me, support
me unconditionally and always are willing to listen and advise
me. I could not have asked to be a part of a better University
or, in my heart, an extended family. Thanks, Columbia University,
for helping me to love my life as well!
After graduation, Tommieka Texiera '96
completed the Barnard-Columbia Joint Education Program and began
teaching high school in New York City. She left teaching to
pursue a career in professional basketball overseas and returned
to the United States to become an assistant coach and academic
coordinator for the women's basketball program at St. John's.
She is pursuing her dream to play in the WNBA while enjoying
a new career as a real estate sales specialist with The Corcoran
Group. Giovann, 11, is an honor student at Middle School 51
in Park Slope, Brooklyn.