New Graduate Greets the Future with an Attitude of Gratitude
By Mary Hardbarger
2020. 2021. 2022?
These years will go down,
like many before them, in infamy.
The COVID-19 global health pandemic temporarily stopped us in our tracks, as humans and as a higher education institution. Thinking back on these past 12-plus months, it’s easy to recall the setbacks — the isolation, the lack of socialization, the uncertainty and the unrest.
Focusing on the positive outcomes is, obviously, more challenging. But that’s exactly what Radford University alumna Chananjah Duncan ’21 did, and continues to do, to keep charging forward. Talk about someone responsive, resilient and real: Duncan is the epitome of these words that Radford University has woven into its branding to recognize and embolden its hard-working, well-rounded student body. Beyond these traits, Duncan is also something else.
She is grateful.
She is grateful for her health. She is grateful for the mentorship she received as an undergraduate student. She is grateful for the long walks she enjoyed on campus this spring as the trees blossomed. She is grateful for the circle of friends she turned to during the pandemic for strength and stability.
More recently, she is grateful for all those who organized the in-person commencement ceremonies this April and May so she could join her peers in celebrating their much-deserved degrees.
She even expressed gratitude for the person who recommended her for this edition of The Magazine of Radford University and for the very person who wrote this story.
Duncan, of Chesapeake, Virginia, knew early on that she would pursue higher education. Between her high school teachers and her mother, who earned a master’s degree, she had plenty of encouragement.
“My mom, she stressed the importance of going to college and what that can afford you in life,” she explained.
Duncan did her research and was impressed with Radford University’s small size, its outstanding academic programs — notably nursing — and its impressive undergraduate research opportunities, such as the Radford Amazonian Research Expedition (RARE).
Orientation, she said, solidified her decision.
“I felt comfortable and confident saying, ‘Mom and Dad, this is where I want to go. I feel like this is my home away from home,’” she said.
Duncan entered Radford University as a pre-nursing student but soon realized that wasn’t the right path for her. Discouraged but not defeated, “I decided to take a leap of faith,” she said.
“I thought, ‘I’ve come this far, and I’m not going to go home. I’m going to leave with a degree that I’m going to use and that I’m passionate about,’” she recalled.
Recognizing her passion for science, she switched her degree to biology. This spring, she earned that degree, “one that I completed with all of my heart,” she said.
During her four years at Radford University, Duncan not only juggled a full course load of intense math and science studies, she also worked full-time to supplement her tuition and other expenses.
Her sophomore through senior years, she was a student worker in the Dean of Students Office.
“The experience was phenomenal,” she said. “Having that exposure to the real-world workforce and witnessing what faculty and staff do in a higher education environment was very valuable. It was empowering.”
It was also challenging at times, Duncan admitted.
“I had to learn a lot, especially how to prioritize going to class and studying with my busy work schedule,” she said.
Duncan worked through these struggles with a strong support system of faculty and staff. In particular, Director of Recreation and Wellness D.J. Preston and Director of Housing and Residential Life Anthony White were very influential in her personal growth. She got to know White when she served as a resident advisor (RA). She visited Preston during her regular visits to the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, where she enjoyed lifting weights.
“I love the realness that we have,” she said. “They encouraged me. They taught me common courtesy and respect. They taught me how to speak up for myself.”
Duncan, they agreed, had an impact on them as well.
Focusing on the future, Duncan said she is uncertain what life has in store for her. She has applied for research analytical positions — inspired by her biology degree — as well as consulting positions based on the experience and skills she gained within the Dean of Students Office.
She is practicing patience, and as always, remains optimistic.
“If I don’t hear back about a job, it’ll be OK. Life goes on,” she said. “I’m not afraid of failure. If something doesn’t work out, try it again. Try it different.”
With her positive attitude always on display, it’s no surprise that people gravitate toward Duncan. Her gratitude is magnetic, as is her empathy for others.
“I believe in elevating others along the way,” she said.
She does that, she said, by simply listening.
“I believe that everybody wants to be listened to. Everybody wants to be heard,” she said. “It fills my cup to know that I’ve touched so many people’s lives while here. I want to keep doing that.”
There is no doubt you will, Chananjah.