The road to success is not an easy one. It requires passion, hard work, focus, persistence and pushing the limits. For some – like AnnaRae Hammes ’22 – it’s especially tough. It’s a path paved with additional obstacles and roadblocks that make the road to success particularly difficult.
AnnaRae grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, within an impoverished community. She explains that her childhood was not the easiest. Her parents were teenagers when they had her, and they both worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. This meant AnnaRae had to grow up very quickly, assuming the responsibility of caring for her younger brother and sister.
Given the difficulties she faced, AnnaRae’s life could have turned out quite differently. But despite the hardships, she had a dream of the future. When she saw her uncle go to college, it inspired her to dream big – to be a first-generation college student. But she knew reaching those goals would require sacrifices and tough decisions. It started with her decision to leave home at 14. Leaving her brother and sister behind was the hardest part, but she always made time to go home and visit them. She says, “I wanted to see them grow up, and I wanted them to see me grow.”
AnnaRae bounced around, staying with relatives, but she was essentially on her own. She focused on her studies and worked to save money for college. Unfortunately, she quickly realized that the money she was making working part time was not nearly enough to pay for college. With encouragement from her uncle and the support from her high school guidance counselor, AnnaRae learned about scholarships and how to apply for financial assistance. AnnaRae says, “She let me know that there were options. Otherwise, I would have never known college was an option.” She added, “There weren’t a lot of resources I was used to receiving, and I was used to doing things on my own.” AnnaRae describes herself as stubborn, and she often had difficulty asking for help. But over time, she has learned the value of asking others for help and how it’s often needed to succeed.
During high school, AnnaRae visited several colleges, but none of them felt quite right. Then one weekend, while traveling to the mountains with her uncle, she drove through Clemson. She describes it as “feeling right.” She loved the landscape, and the students looked happy – something she felt was missing from other schools. AnnaRae says, “I looked at the trees. I looked at the scenery. I looked at everyone studying. As soon as I came to Clemson, it was a calling.” This was the place for her.
AnnaRae continued to work hard and push the limits to graduate high school and get accepted to Clemson. And it paid off. She was Tigertown bound. But just weeks before she was scheduled to arrive at Clemson her freshman year, she was worried the financial aid and scholarships were not enough. And more, she didn’t have a car or other means to get to campus. She started communicating with Clemson’s financial aid office, and they put her in contact with Director Elizabeth Milam. That call changed her life. AnnaRae says, “Elizabeth told me to just get here, and they would make sure we figured it out.” When her uncle helped her with a car, everything truly began falling into place. She says, “I showed up a week before classes started with a duffle bag and a borrowed computer.”
Clemson’s financial aid office – spearheaded by Milam– made sure AnnaRae had the support she needed. She says, “Scholarships made a huge difference because I didn’t have to work – which was the best option for me. I was able to fully immerse myself in Clemson.” When AnnaRae first arrived on campus, she was determined to make friends and find a solid support system. She found this in Alpha Phi Omega (APO), a national service fraternity and the University’s second oldest student organization.
AnnaRae has always pushed herself. In high school, she tried new activities – like track. “I wanted to challenge myself as much as I could. I wasn’t the best at it, but I wanted to challenge myself and make sure I was growing,” she says. While she often stepped outside her comfort zone, AnnaRae also found her niche in areas that allowed her to be expressive – including band, dance and art.
Whenever opportunities arose, AnnaRae took them. She says, “Growing up, all my resources were very limited, so whenever I did receive the resources, I wanted to live.” She told herself, “I’m going to challenge myself, and I’m going to go to college.”
In college, she pushed through personal boundaries – from her choice in majors and minors to joining extracurriculars that would help her step out of her comfort zone and make new friends. After majoring in biology for the first two years, AnnaRae decided to follow her passion and switch her major to English. She says, “English has always been my passion. In high school, I always had great English teachers; and I continued to have great teachers at Clemson.” AnnaRae gives credit to scholarships for making it possible for her to make this important decision. If she had been working while also taking classes, she’s certain she would not have had the time to reflect on her major and make the best choice for her future.
Once she switched her major to English, AnnaRae also decided to minor in communications studies. She says, “It fit well with English, and I wanted to challenge myself because I wasn’t always a great communicator.”
One common thread throughout AnnaRae’s life has been her willingness to not only accept challenges but to look for opportunities to be challenged. It’s a journey that has fostered great personal growth, especially during her time at Clemson. AnnaRae says, “Clemson has definitely changed me. Before coming here, I took care of my siblings, my family and my friends. Clemson made me take a look at myself.” With that reflection, she’s been able to grow, and she says she has enjoyed watching herself mature and flourish. She adds, “Before I came to Clemson, I was very shy. Coming here and immersing myself in the campus – with my friends, fellow students, teachers – I was able to speak. I never thought that was an option for me. At Clemson, I found my voice.” She describes that growing up within an impoverished community, girls and women are often encouraged to be quiet – seen and not heard. But now – with her voice – she is inspiring others to dream big. AnnaRae is especially excited and proud to show her brother and sister that they, too, can have a voice and push themselves to find their passions and be successful.
Following graduation in May, AnnaRae returned home Charleston for the summer. It’s a chance to think about the past four years and the hard work she put into reaching this incredible milestone. She’s looking forward to spending time with her family, especially her brother and sister. She values this time to reflect, feeling pride in all she’s accomplished, and she is inspiring her brother and sister, now 15 and 16 years old. AnnaRae says, “One of the most important things I’ve taught my brother and sister is that they have the option to go to college.” But she’s also showing them that they have unlimited opportunities for the future. She is teaching them to follow their own path – wherever that may lead. As their big sister, AnnaRae is especially comforted knowing that if they need it, she can offer them help, fight for them and support them.
AnnaRae’s success as a first-generation college graduate is an inspiration to those who are also walking a path paved with obstacles and roadblocks, and she’s also an inspiration to those who wish to give back to Clemson and our students.
AnnaRae represents how scholarships not only give students an opportunity to attend Clemson but to thrive here. Because of scholarships, students like AnnaRae can more fully engage in extracurricular activities and take advantage of the breadth of opportunities Clemson offers. Unfortunately, for many, their financial situation threatens their ability to afford a Clemson education. As these students face obstacles on their journey to become Tigers, Clemson risks missing out on prospective students who could be the future of our University – the ones who get that “feeling” when they visit Clemson. AnnaRae described it as “a calling.” When a student finds that calling, it is our University’s mission to make sure that financial barriers do not keep them from becoming Tigers – that they have the opportunity to mark our campus with their unique influence.
For AnnaRae and those facing similar obstacles, scholarships make all the difference. When you support scholarships, you forever impact the lives of current and future Tigers. You provide them with the tools necessary for success that they will pass along to others. It is the power of philanthropy. It’s a circle that never ends – because when our students benefit from the generosity of others, they are inspired to give back to future generations.
AnnaRae says, “Being a Clemson alum now, it’s comfortable because I know I’ll never be alone.” She knows Clemson will always feel like home – a place to come back to. And in that never-ending circle of philanthropy and its power, AnnaRae looks forward to supporting future generations who dream of coming to Clemson.
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