My Journey to Bradley

I‘m not your typical Bradley student. I’m 33 years old, and I have a 9-year-old son, Silas, who is the center of all my choices today. I was born in Peoria and grew up in the foster care system, which led to me living in several different areas of the city. When I attended college for the first time in 2009, I was enrolled in a two-year Human Services certificate program at Illinois Central College (ICC). I was halfway through my final semester when I decided I didn’t want to go into that field, and in 2011, I dropped out. I walked away without a problem and convinced myself I was fully content with being a server and bartender for the rest of my life. It was quick money and required very little effort. “This is the world I belong in,” I told myself. 

When my son was born in January 2014, I was doing well as a server and I was offered leadership positions and frequently given raises. The money was great, but the work environment always left much to be desired. I soon realized this wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But it took me five more years before I made any changes. 

As Silas approached school-age, I felt the pressure building to do something different. I wanted to make a brighter future for myself and set a better example for him, so I decided to go back to school. I wanted him to know he can do anything he sets his mind to, so I should want that for myself, as well. I started thinking about things I’m passionate about and wondering how I could turn that into a career path. 

I’ve been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. Scribbling poems on the back of my foster parents’ “important papers,” imagining stories in my head, and giving names and personalities to all the characters. Writing was my safe space to express my suffering, my happiness, my love, and, at times, my rage. I thought, surely I can’t support my son by writing poetry. I decided to explore journalism, and much to my surprise, I was really good at it and I enjoyed it. 

I went to ICC and gained an extensive toolbox of journalism-related skills. I was managing editor of Harbinger Student Media, ICC’s student-led news organization, and my self-care podcast was awarded first place in podcasting for two years consecutively at the Illinois Community College Journalism Association Conference (ICCJA). When it came time to graduate, I fully intended on going to Illinois State University (ISU) because I didn’t think Bradley was for people like me—at least, that’s what I told myself.  

Having grown up in Peoria and living as a ward of the state, I remember going past Bradley as a child and thinking “I want to go to the castle school when I grow up.” And when I got older I didn’t think it would be possible for me to go to Bradley. However, when I was close to graduating from ICC, I was told I needed to apply to more than one university, so I applied at Bradley, whole-heartedly expecting not to be accepted. To my surprise, I was accepted into both schools. The day I got the acceptance call from Bradley, Silas and I danced in the living room, singing “Mommy’s going to Bradley!” 

When I stepped on the Bradley campus for the first time, Silas held my hand and I felt a wave of belonging wash over me. I knew I had made the right choice. Watching my son’s eyes light up when he saw the castle college I had told him about, I was reminded of the day I believed I could never make a life for myself at Bradley, I knew he would never have to feel that way. Silas looks forward to carrying on the family legacy and hopes to attend Bradley someday, too. 

The moral of my story is we are only confined by the restrictions we place on ourselves. We can do things we never thought possible. We can overcome challenges that stand in the way of living a happy and purposeful life. Out of every experience, you will get back the amount of effort you are willing to put into it. 

My journey at Bradley University will be over before I know it, and only one semester in, I know my decision to come here has shifted the path of my life and story forever. You have the power to make that choice, too.

Are you willing to go the extra mile for yourself?

Stephanie Bridgeman-McClaskey is majoring in journalism and double minoring in entrepreneurship and innovation and organizational communication. She is president of the Org Com Club and she serves as the media and marketing coordinator for Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.