As the youngest of twelve children, Zkara Gaillard hadn't figured her plans after high school. She only knew that she would start college.
"I just entered college thinking it was something you were supposed to do," she says. She and her twin sister started at a university in upstate New York, where they took a year off from college to save money and work full-time. After their family moved to South Carolina, they started planning their next steps to continue their education.
"I ended up taking a year off school and working my first year in South Carolina, mostly to pay down some of the debt. I also had to think and reflect on my reasons for going to school and what I wanted," says Zkara, "That's when I entered UofSC as a transfer student in Fall 2018, with an entirely new outlook on what I wanted out of my college experience."
Zhané had a similar perspective, but she explains that they both were committed to being first-generation college graduates. She says,"it was really important to me to find a space that would help me grow both personally and professionally.”
During their time at South Carolina, Zkara was a recipient of the Merrill G. Christophersen Award for exceptional scholastic achievement. She served as a member of the Association of African American Students and an undergraduate intern with the UofSC History Department's Pinckney Papers Project.
Zhané, a senior majoring in anthropology and African American Studies, worked with faculty from various college disciplines to become a more well-rounded researcher. She got involved on campus through Carolina Curls, South Carolina's first natural hair organization. She also participated in the Association of African American Students and Young Democratic Socialists of America.
“I'm grateful for the community that I have been able to build here.,” she says.
Both transfer students admit it wasn't easy as both had to juggle multiple jobs to support themselves through college, with added pressure to finish college.
"Every single person in my family who had even attempted to go to college has had to drop out due to financial constraints," says Zhané.
"While my parents are enthusiastically behind my pursual of college, I do fund my own education," saysZkara. "At times, I've worked three different jobs just to make sure that I could stay in school."
Zkara not only had to juggle both work and school, but she also had a lot of self-doubt about her major. "I was always a little embarrassed,” she says. “ There's the joke that people who don't know what to do in college major in English, and I felt like people perceived me as having little drive or conviction in my education."
But with time, Zkara realized the strengths of her major choice.
"I took a few writing classes with some amazing professors who showed me that my writing was something that I could actually take seriously," she says.
With the encouragement from her English professors, Zkara realized that she's got what it takes to be a serious writer one day. Sparking an interest again in creative writing as well as a minor in Islamic Culture Studies.
Zkara credits her professors for believing in her and says her time at UofSC was "exceptionally valuable."
"I feel that I have grown exponentially as a student and as a person,” she says.
Zhané says she is grateful to have had experience working with faculty across the college from anthropology, African American Studies, history, and English, including an internship with anthropology professor Sherina Feliciano-Santos. As a researcher, she says, "I have been pretty lucky to be able to work with some of the wonderful faculty in several of the College of Arts and Sciences departments."
"I will say single handedly, being able to take part in research so early on in my academic career, really helped me realize my passions and guided me towards my interests in pursuing linguistic anthropology in my research," says Zhané.
Now that they have graduated, both sisters are continuing to graduate school — setting another milestone in their family. Zkara is heading to the University of Iowa to get her MFA in Creative writing, specializing in fiction. Zhané plans to attend the University of San Diego in the fall.
Although she once doubted her potential as a writer, Zkara was accepted into several graduate programs across the country.
"I have grown to see myself as a writer. I pushed through all the self-doubt," she says.
"The biggest thing for me was being able to put myself through college without taking a break or dropping out. But I got it done, and I did it well," says Zhané. "I'm really proud to say I am graduating magna cum laude as the first person in my family to pursue a Ph.D. in linguistic anthropology."