From shyness to leadership: Odyssey Junior grad begins UW adventure

Jayda in cap and gown poses with her donated laptop from American Family Insurance

“I’m really excited and nervous to start my new chapter,” Jayda says as she moves into the residence halls before starting classes at UW–Madison. A 2021 Odyssey Junior graduate, Jayda calls it “cool” to have graduated from high school the same year her mother, Shiquita, graduated from the adult Odyssey class. Shiquita proudly describes her daughter as “a very smart young lady who’s beginning to live the dream I once had for myself. I’m truly honored that my daughter got accepted into all seven colleges that she applied for and thankful she chose UW–Madison.”

Jayda’s laptop was donated by American Family Insurance as part of their ongoing partnership with Odyssey. Last year, American Family donated laptops for all 35 students in the core class. This year, they donated laptops for Onward Odyssey students in Kevin Mullen’s English 100 class as well as extras for Odyssey and Odyssey Junior alumni like Jayda.

Although Jayda received a four-year scholarship to UW, she had no laptop. “I was scared and stressing about it,” Jayda notes, “but then I got an email from Odyssey: ‘We have a laptop for you.’ Wow, that’s so amazing!”

Shiquita and her daughter Jayda

In her college application essay, Jayda describes overcoming her bashfulness to engage with middle schoolers as a volunteer. “I had to become a leader. At UW–Madison, I hope to study psychology and bring my shine and spirit, just like I did when I was around the middle schoolers.”

Odyssey Junior helped Jayda find her voice. Her winning “Why Vote?” poem was published in the Cap Times in September 2020, and a live Zoom event featuring Wisconsin’s Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes and other VIPs also included a video of Jayda reading her poem.

“I was wondering was college for me, is it my path? Doing things like Odyssey’s ‘Why Vote?’ contest and applying to colleges made me realize that I have something. I know I’m smart, and I believe I have the ability.”

Jayda plans to share her experiences as a Badger with next year’s Odyssey Junior participants, encouraging them to think of themselves as “college material.”

“I would tell them to get good grades because you never know what can happen. I made it! Keep going because anything is possible.”

Support Odyssey Junior via Friends of Odyssey Family Fund