Campus News

My MEC Story: Obstacles? That’s putting it lightly. But one conversation changed it all for me.

Editor’s note: My MEC Story is an occasional series featuring students and alumni at Medgar Evers College with unique stories — and a willingness to tell them.


By Debbie Ann Byfield  |

Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before.

A high school dropout with higher aspirations.

A Jamaican immigrant with no support system in sight.

Two full-time jobs; a full-time student; and six mouths to feed.

I’m not just one of those — I am all of those.

Hi, I am Debbie Ann Byfield, a proud student and soon-to-be graduate of Medgar Evers College — but it didn’t seem destined to be this way.

My journey to where I am today has been a challenging one to say the least.

I am sharing my story in hopes it may inspire someone out there that is facing their own obstacles.

A journey to MEC

Three years ago, I barely knew of Medgar Evers College.

In just a few days, I’ll graduate from Medgar Evers College with honors.

Was it an easy journey getting here? No, it was not. It was blood, sweat and tears. 

I was born and grew up in Jamaica West Indies. 

I was a high school dropout. 

I have six children. 

I migrated to the United States in 2017 with my six children leaving my husband behind in Jamaica.  

As the American saying goes, the cards were definitely stacked against me.

My first job was as a home health aide, and in 2018, I became a certified medical assistant. It was always my dream to attend college. However, the opportunity did not present itself to me. 

So I had to take control.

In 2019, my desire to further my education took me to Queensborough Community College.  

At first, I wanted to be a physician assistant, so I attained an Associate of Science in Health Science.

During my time at Queensborough, I faced many challenges. I was technically a single mother in a foreign country working two full-time jobs, and going to school full-time while single-handedly taking care of my household. 

It’s no surprise that I ended up burnt out. It got to the point where I had to seek counseling.   

Being that Queensborough is a two-year college I had to transfer to a four-year college.

But where could I go? I had no idea.

My academic advisor at the time encouraged me to transfer to a CUNY college. 

My counselor at the time was an elderly Jamaican lady who had been living in the United States for a very long time. I spoke to her about it and she encouraged me to transfer to Medgar Evers College. 

She said that Medgar Evers College was a Predominantly Black Institution (PBI) and that it was a wonderful college that catered to the needs of Black students. 

Don’t ask why but I took her advice — it didn’t really make sense on paper.

Even though I was accepted into four CUNY colleges including Hunter and York College which is approximately 11 minutes from my house, I chose Medgar Evers College which is approximately 40 minutes from my house.

But her encouragement was more important than the commute.

A juggling act — with a prize at the end

Before we go any further, you are probably wondering how I managed two full-time jobs, full-time school, and taking care of my children — plus that commute.

First, I have to thank my children for their love and support. I used to tell everyone I had personal babysitters, as the older children helped me care for the younger ones. 

The schedule for my two full-time jobs was Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday to Thursday, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

So, how exactly did I fit school in?

Let me give you a rundown of how my typical day used to be. Before I leave work at 7 a.m., I wake my children up so they can get ready for school by the time I get home. I get home at around 7:40 a.m., drop them off at school at 8 a.m., then go home, get ready, and head to my other job that starts at 9 a.m. The older children would pick up the younger ones from school. When I finish work at 5 p.m., I go home, get ready, and go to school from 6:20 p.m. to 9 p.m. After leaving class, I drive to work, set my alarm, and nap in my car until it’s time to start work. I did laundry and cleaning on Saturdays and meal prep for the week on Sundays. There were days when I was falling asleep while driving. I would pull up at a stoplight and doze off before the light changed to green and would be jolted awake by honking horns. 

In 2020, I almost became homeless. In the summer of 2019, I was given notice by my landlord because of inappropriate advances on his end. He subsequently made it difficult on myself and my children, always telling us we needed to get out of his house. 

At this point, I was determined that I would never allow myself to be in a similar situation as this one. I started inquiring about purchasing a house, even though I only had $5,000 in a savings account and no financial backer. 

I know COVID-19 was devastating for many people, but it was a blessing in disguise for me. In December 2019, when I went to housing court, the judge gave me six months to vacate the premises, which meant I needed to find another place of abode for myself and my six children. 

How was I going to do that?  

It was challenging to find an apartment, and if I did, I could not afford the rent. I was so stressed by the situation that I was later diagnosed with depression and had to seek mental health counseling. Then COVID came, and everything got shut down in March 2020. This allowed me to work and save a lot more money through overtime. A friend introduced me to a mortgage broker who went above and beyond for me. He guided me through the entire process from finding a real estate broker to finding a lawyer until I finally closed on my house in February 2021, exactly four years after migrating to the United States.

Desperate times actually allowed me to land the American dream of home ownership — even if it did present an obstacle to my next educational steps.

A change in outlook

Before enrolling in Medgar Evers College I went to a job interview at a medical office. The doctor who interviewed me asked what my aspirations were for my career. 

I told her I wanted to be a physician assistant. She asked me why I wanted to be a physician assistant.rtjijrj I asked her why not a physician assistant. She then explained to me that a physician assistant will always be an assistant. I should instead aspire to be a nurse practitioner — explaining that a nurse practitioner can accomplish a lot of things, including having their own practice.  

With this in mind, I switched focus when I got to Medgar Evers College. I spoke with my academic advisor at the time and we came up with a plan. I was going to first pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, after which I would enroll in an accelerated Bachelor of Science in the nursing program and later a nurse practitioner program.

I started Medgar Evers College in Fall 2021. During this semester I took some science courses that I had previously taken because they were Cs and C+s. I needed at least Bs to get into a reputable nursing program. 

The first semester at Medgar Evers College went OK. However, the second semester found me coming across undesired circumstances.

I got frustrated to the point where I dropped all the courses I was registered for the Fall 2022 semester. I was done with Medgar Evers College — or so I thought.

A life-changing conversation

After dropping the courses instead of feeling relieved, I was really bothered. I spoke to a friend of mine about it and he encouraged me to go back. I was still trying to figure it out and only applied for re-entry on the last day of the period for Spring 2023. 

After re-enrolling, I was still having undesirable circumstances with some of the courses I was registered for. 

Being a part of the SEEK program I decided to talk to my SEEK academic counselor about the issues I was experiencing. When I got to the SEEK department my academic counselor was not in office. I saw the SEEK Director Ms. Sherill-Ann Mason in her office and she asked how she could assist me. 

I know Ms. Mason probably does not remember that day but I will never forget it as it was “the” turning point for me at Medgar Evers College. I sat with Ms. Mason for more than two hours as she listened to my frustrations while crying. 

I was ready to give up but Ms. Mason would not allow me to do so.  

After I met with Ms. Mason, I started participating in and volunteering at campus events which gave me a sense of belonging. 

I later joined the CUNY Innovative Career Opportunity & Research Program (ICORP), where I participated in the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP). 

In Spring 2023. I was really struggling and eventually took an incomplete for one of my courses.

Upon doing a degree audit with my academic advisor I realized I was not on track to graduate in Spring 2024. I had to come up with a plan because I had no plans to be at MEC beyond Spring 2024. 

I took eight credits in the spring and a total of 21 credits in the fall. I was officially registered for 18 credits and started from the beginning with the course that I took an incomplete grade for.  

I was nominated to join the CUNY Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy and the CUNY-Wide Sexual Misconduct panel in Fall 2023, both of which I accepted. 

At the end of Fall 2023, I was successful in all my courses and landed on the Dean’s List for the first time since being at Medgar Evers College.  

In February 2024, as a member of the CUNY Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy, I participated in the IREX Global Sustainability Challenge, where we partnered with Soran University of Kurdistan, Iraq to come up with a sustainable solution to combat food waste. Our team secured second place. 

I was also nominated for and joined the Medgar Evers General Education Committee. I am currently enrolled in 17 credits and am scheduled to graduate on May 31, 2024, with honors.

As I reflect on my MEC journey, I am filled with pride and gratitude.

Despite the doubters and naysayers, I have proven that with resilience and self-belief, anything is possible. 

As a first-generation college graduate and the only one of eight siblings to earn a college degree, my success is a testament to my unwavering determination and commitment to excellence. 

If you’re facing challenges, I urge you to never give up on your dreams, no matter the obstacles you may face.

Through my own journey, I hope that I exemplify the power of perseverance and the limitless potential within each individual to overcome adversity and achieve greatness.


My MEC Story

A look at previous installments in this series, written by students and alumni:

My MEC Story: Advocacy wasn’t an option — until I made it one.


My MEC Story: Embracing risk-taking in the face of judgment

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