Alia Byrd, a sophomore elementary education major, with a double minor in TESOL and Spanish, was awarded the “Realizing the Dream” award on Nov. 5 along with other first-generation college students. She was nominated by Goshen College faculty for her outstanding academic and extracurricular achievement in her first year at college – but when asked, she says she could not have been more surprised.

“When I was told that I had received the Realizing the Dream award, I was a little confused, honestly,” Byrd said. “In my eyes, I see myself as just another college student trying to get by. I try hard in my classes, because I have no other choice. I want to achieve my personal goals and so I do what I have to.”

Byrd is currently a resident assistant, a leader of Black Student Union, as well as a worship assistant for the Campus Ministries team.

“I involve myself in so many different groups so that I can be aware of how others live, what they think, and how they experience Goshen College,” Byrd said. “For me, I appreciate this award because it puts back into perspective why I work so hard, and that even though I may not realize it, others do recognize the work that I do. That makes me want to work harder to actually deserve this award and not end a good thing now. I also hope to let others, who I know work even harder than I do, know that their willingness to better themselves is paying off.”

This giving mentality is part of what got Byrd interested in becoming a teacher. Through mission work, specifically a high school trip to Haiti, Byrd realized how important education is in many parts of the world.

“I want to help kids become more than just students,” Byrd said. “I want them to apply learning to everything they do. Also, kids need to be taught of their worth and capabilities while they are young. That way they can grow into hopeful and helpful adults, and that’s why I am specifically [interested in] elementary education.”

But a large piece of learning at Goshen College for Byrd has been outside of academics. She attributes much of this type of learning to the friends she has made during her time here.

“One of those things [that my friends taught me] is what it means to be a black woman,” Byrd said. “I guess before college, I never really saw myself as anything special, but they have put a confidence, a passion, in me to be the best I can be, and to be as passionate about things as I want to be. I have more self-confidence, I laugh more, I think more, I am more challenged, and it is all thanks to them. I wouldn’t be surviving without them.”

As Byrd has learned and grown at Goshen, she has been able to see areas of positive change but also areas that she feels need attention. One such area that she mentions is the attitude that all members of campus think and feel alike on certain issues.

“I think that we are terrified to make people feel uncomfortable,” Byrd said. “Sometimes, we fail to see that others are feeling differently about something. Not everyone feels the same about the election, Black Lives Matter, immigration – and yet we often assume that everyone thinks the same as we do and fail to have conversations. And then nothing is ever truly resolved.”

Byrd is determined to continue to realize her dream by working to change this attitude on campus. By starting conversations between Black Student Union, Latino Student Union, and Residence Life staff, Byrd is hopeful that plans for action can change the campus for the better.

“We want this to be a safe space, but also a space where we recognize that eventually we will leave Goshen College and have to deal with the real world,” Byrd said. “The culture we have on campus isn’t the culture in the rest of the world, and for some, I think that will be a shock. So, we plan on helping others prepare themselves for what is to come, by being supportive, questioning what has been the ‘norm,’ accepting others feelings and validating them, but also not being afraid to question them.”

Byrd has been awarded for “realizing the dream,” but she will be the first to tell you that the work does not stop there. She hopes to travel, to create classrooms that inspire change, to grow in her faith, and to thank her mother, who she says is her biggest supporter and best friend, by doing everything she can to continue to make her proud.

“I hope to continue to ‘realize my dream’ by continuing to work hard,” Byrd said. “Just because I received this award, it does not mean that I have made it, or that I am able to stop where I am. I have to keep working, keep questioning, keep pushing forward, and know that I can always do better. My biggest competition is myself, and so I strive to be a better person than I was yesterday.”