Personal #STATEment Jennifer Mathurin

I was 16 years old and my basketball coach asked me what I wanted to become in life.

I told him that I didn't see myself being older than 20.

I mainly grew up with my mother and two little brothers because my father wasn’t really around. He would pop up once in a while, but he wasn’t around, really.

My mom was always at work, so I was always with my brothers. A lot of people in my neighborhood thought that I was their mom. I’ve always been tall and a little bit bigger, so people just thought I was a young mom living in the neighborhood, because my mom was never around.

Jennifer and Ben

A regular day for me was waking up in the morning at 6 and making sure my brothers ate and were getting ready. I would take Ben to day care and then I would take Dom to elementary school, and I would go to high school. After school, I would go pick both of them up and then go back to my high school for basketball practice. They would color or play around on the sidelines when I had practice and then my coach would drive us home afterwards.

My primary goal in life was to make sure that my brothers were OK. In my head, they needed to be OK and I needed to get them there, because my mom was always working and was never there. When I saw people in my neighborhood getting into bad things, the first thing I always thought about was that I can’t do that because I have two little boys always looking at me. They don’t have a father figure and they don’t have a big brother, so I’m that person that needs to always be on top of everything. I wanted them to be successful, and I knew that I needed to be the example for them.

It was definitely hard. I had some cousins that were gang members. Things like that … and the violence in North Montreal …. I didn’t want to live in that kind of environment anymore, and my brothers wouldn’t either growing up, so that is what motivated me. Seeing a brighter future for them.

My coach, Michel Metellus, kept telling me that people have dreams. I just didn’t know. I had no goals and no dreams. I didn’t think I was good at basketball. With the way I had to take care of my brothers, I just had to survive and make sure everybody else was OK, and I never took the time to think about what I wanted to do and what I could achieve. He sat me down and we had this talk where he said “Don’t you see yourself playing in the WNBA someday?” I thought that a little girl from North Montreal would never play in the WNBA. This will never happen. He always kept telling me that I had the talent to do it, and that I just needed to put the work in.

What made me most nervous about coming to the United States was I didn’t know or hadn’t heard of anyone in a similar situation take this route and actually graduate. There’s a lot of people that come for only a year or two, don’t like it, get homesick, don’t want to do it anymore. I felt like I was one of the first ones to do it, and I was scared. Everyone just keeps coming back. What if I fail too? I know a lot of people back home were saying that I would never make it four years and I’m not good enough to play in the ACC. Questioning how I got my scholarship. Sometimes I would just feed into that and think maybe they were right.

Freshman season (2013-14)

I knew English, but I didn't speak it as well as I do today. I really picked it up when I got here, my freshman year. During the time of summer classes (before freshman year), I would never be in my room at night. There was a little room in the basement of Tucker Hall, where we lived, and I would bring my laptop down there and watch movies in English. I had a dictionary next to me and I would translate words and try to pick up on accents and try to figure out what people were saying. I would come back to the room and Miah (Spencer) would say “Where have you been? You don’t know the area yet and you shouldn’t be wandering around by yourself.” I told her that I was downstairs watching movies, and she didn’t believe me. One time she followed me downstairs just to see if I was really there!

When I have something to do, I get it done. If I identify something as being important, I’m going to put in the time and effort to do it. I did have a lot of things on my plate that were important—basketball, school, community service—and yes it was hard at times, but when you truly care about those things, you’re going to find a way to do it. When you’re motivated and you have people behind you and people who look up to you, that’s something that really keeps you going.

For a recent internship with my social work course of study, I was working at a homeless shelter for women in Raleigh and my position was a case manager. I would try to help women find jobs, housing, and help them with health insurance situations, and scheduling doctor’s appointments if they did not have the money to pay for it. Those were some of the things that I did. That really got me even more interested in helping people as much as I can, because it’s crazy to realize the amount of people who need help and are unable to get it.

I was at the shelter every day from 1-9 with the women and when I wasn’t doing case work, I was serving food. When I wasn’t doing either of those things, I just took as much time as I could to sit down and speak with the women. For many of them, that’s what they want. They just want someone to hear them out. When you’re homeless, people tend to forget that you exist. They think that you fell through a crack of society and many of them feel as though they simply don’t belong here anymore.

Graduating and earning the ACC postgraduate scholarship makes me feel great. It makes me feel as though I accomplished what I came here to do. The most important thing was that my little brother—Ben—now takes school more seriously. That’s so great, because all along that’s what I’ve wanted. I wanted them to follow along in my footsteps. He kept asking me about my scholarship and asking me what he needs to do to achieve something similar. I was giving him pointers and it just made me so happy. He didn’t like school for a while. He hated it. He came to me and told me that he really wants to come to the States and do well in school. To me, that was amazing.

In the future, I really want to be in Spain. Since I was little, I always wanted to live in Spain. I don’t know why. I know they have a really good league over there. I do currently have an opportunity to play overseas next year. Things are looking optimistic. Regardless of where I’m going to be, I’m going to be happy. A lot of people don’t get to experience this. I hope that basketball is going to take me to a lot of different places around the world and I’ll get to experience many things before I’m done playing. Later on in life, I may want to be a coach because I think basketball is always going to be a part of my life, but I’d also like to incorporate some of my social work background.

If coaching basketball someday after I’m done playing is not in my future, I would like to be a counselor. Probably the best counselor in the world. That’s my goal and that’s what I really want to do.

I’m very thankful for the opportunity that NC State has given me. Playing basketball in the ACC was just amazing and I’m forever thankful for that. I know that a lot of people would die for this uniform and to play on this level, and I just want to make sure everyone knows that I am very, very, very, very thankful for the opportunity that was given to me.

What I tell the young kids at school when I go back home, is that regardless of how your situation is looking, someone else may have something worse. Always make the best of everything. I know it’s hard. Sometimes you’re in a really hard situation and may be wondering what you’re doing with your life and that you may never be the person you want to be. You just need to always enjoy every little moment, enjoy the people surrounding you, and enjoy the experiences you go through. These are memories that people can’t take away from you.

Money is not going to be there forever, nor will it make you happy. A trophy might make you proud once in a while when you look at it, but that’s not the main thing. It’s all about the memories you make. What experiences did I go through in order to get that trophy? The main thing is just to enjoy every situation you’re in and make the best of it.

Memories are very rich and are to be cherished. I cherish all of my memories and I’m glad that I have them. Even the moments in my life that I wish didn’t happen made me the person that I am today.

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