Interview by Brianna Smitko. Brianna graduated from Columbia College, Chicago in 2009 with a degree in Marketing and Communications. She currently works in communications as a Digital Project Manager in Chicago.

Although Lafakeria and I have volunteered together on the communications committee of the Pullman Foundation Associates Board for almost a year, during the interview I learned a lot about her and that we shared a similar journey to our current roles as members of the communications committee. We were scholars during the same years and volunteered on the Pullman Scholar Alumni Selection Committee and joined the Associates Board at the same time. She has very valuable advice for current and future scholars, and it was a pleasure getting to know her a bit better. I hope you enjoy getting to “know” her too!

(Brianna): What years did you receive the Pullman Foundation Scholarship?

(Lafakeria): I was a Pullman Scholar from 2005-2009 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I double majored in political science and communications.

(B): How did the Pullman Foundation Scholarship affect your college experience?

(L): I was truly excited and blessed when I received news that I was selected as a Pullman Scholar in 2005. Becoming a scholar not only helped me financially with my goal of continuing my education and obtaining a college degree, but it also allowed me to become a part of a huge network of great people.

During college, I always stayed connected with the Foundation, but post-graduation gave me opportunities to become more involved. For instance, I immediately volunteered to be a part of the Pullman Scholar Alumni Selection Committee, to conduct phone interviews with applicants. One thing I can say about the Foundation is that it awards scholarships to hardworking, driven students and strives to maintain those relationships years down the line.

(B): Did you obtain a post-graduate degree after undergrad?

(L): After graduating from U of I in 2009, my plan was to continue on the path of obtaining my law degree. So, I applied and was accepted to a few law schools and decided on John Marshall Law School in downtown Chicago. Law school was definitely the toughest three years of my educational career. I’ve always been the “nerd”, the straight “A” student, and the overachiever, but law school tested all of the above. A lot of hard work, prayer, and tears got me to the light at the end of the tunnel. Making my mom proud and always having her as my backbone has gotten me through every obstacle or setback in my life.

(B): What are you up to these days?

(L): Currently, I am an Assistant City Attorney for the City of Rockford Department of Law. I moved to Rockford and started my new position in March 2014, and it has definitely been an eye-opener. The City of Rockford is smaller than my hometown of Chicago, but it is just as busy, and I’m sure I will obtain invaluable knowledge and experience during my tenure

When I’m not working, I enjoy reading, shopping, and watching reality television. Reality television gives me a break from the legal world. I also enjoy visiting Chicago and spending time with my mom. One new hobby I’d like to take up is knitting.

(B): How do you stay involved with the Foundation as an alumna?

(L): Every year, I volunteer as a member of the Pullman Scholar Alumni Selection Committee. I love interviewing the students and getting to know them aside from their applications. I relate to so many of the potential scholars, and they remind me of myself when I was a senior in high school. They inspire me to continue to be successful, never give up, and be a role model for my younger cousins.

I also try to attend foundation events throughout the year, and I am a member of the Pullman Foundation Associates Board. The board is another means for alumni and current scholars to stay connected, learn from each other, and also promote awareness of the Foundation’s mission.

(B): What advice do you have for current scholars?

(L): My advice to current scholars is simple: Never give up. School, family, jobs, and just life can be stressful and overwhelming at times, but as long as you put your all into whatever you’re undertaking, you will prosper. Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel seems dim, but it is bright. I said this often while studying for the bar exam the summer of 2012. You have to keep moving and stay strong. Everything you put your mind to will be worth it in the end. Also, if you ever need advice, encouragement, or that extra push, the Pullman Foundation has a huge alumni network to be just that.

(B): What are your hopes for the future?

(L): One of my personal hopes for the future is that I have an influence on at least one person’s life. It can stem from my accomplishments and successes throughout my educational career, my independence, and strength, or just beating the odds with some of the cards I’ve been dealt. Life is not meant to be perfect, but it is meant for one to make it worthwhile while we’re here.