By Thomas Cathey | Special to The OBSERVER
KamDyn Hardin had been playing video games after dinner with a friend online when he received one of the most important emails of his life in early 2022.
Hardin, then a Granite Bay High School senior, had won a $10,000 scholarship award from student loan lender Sallie Mae and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund for his academic achievements. He’s one of just 25 students to receive the national award.
Upon learning the news, Hardin went to the laundry room, where he found his mom. “We won, we won!” he shouted as his mother broke down, overjoyed by her boy’s achievements. Together with his brother, who joined them shortly afterward, they hugged and celebrated right there in the laundry room.
“It was a lot of fun!” Hardin said.
Hardin’s biggest supporter and mentor has been his mother “since day one,” Hardin said. “She’s always pushed me to be the best I can be in every facet and every aspect of my life. And academics just came along with that. I showed her that I can get good grades and from there on out that’s what she expected from me. So it is something that I wanted to do for myself and she was there to support me every step of the way.”
The struggles Hardin and his family endured to reach this point made the celebration that much sweeter. When he was in middle school, the family were struggling financially and were without a home, moving from hotel to hotel. Quite naturally, those circumstances could make it difficult to focus in school. Hardin’s mom, however, made sure to push through for her kids and make it possible to succeed regardless.
“It was definitely a struggle,” Hardin said. “My mom just really embedded in my mind that if you still have breath in your body, you can do all things. And it was really just our faith in God that kept us through. My mom was a strong woman, so she made sure that she took me back and forth from school, back and forth from tutoring, church or football practices and things like that.”
Hardin also credited his faith for leading him through such challenging times while remaining a “straight-A” student. He stressed that none of his accomplishments would be possible without it and points to the Holy Bible scripture Proverbs 3:5-6, which reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him; and he will make your paths straight.”
Now, having completed his first semester at Louisiana State University, things are going even better than Hardin anticipated, he said.
““The transition from high school to college, I expected to be bumpy at first but I’ve actually adapted well,” he said.
Being far from home took some getting used to, but Hardin said he is making the most of his opportunity at LSU. He said he has established good relationships and plans to get involved in more extracurricular activities in the spring, as he’s already signed up for the Black student union and will join the football team as a lineman.
“It’s been something I’ve had to adapt to for sure because I’ve been around my mom, my brother and my sister for so long and it’s really just been the three of us,” he said. “So it was hard to adapt at first. I had a week of withdrawals but it’s been a true experience.
“I’m really liking college a lot. The environment, campus and students here are very lively. I’ve had so many networking opportunities here at LSU, it’s just been a great experience.”
Hardin is majoring in business management and plans to become an entrepreneur. He’s also focused on setting the foundation for those who follow him.
“I plan on being a multifaceted business owner and one day starting my own business that helps young African Americans like myself get into a stable position to where they can build something for themselves,” he said. “I believe in generational wealth. So it’s not only about getting [myself] to a good point, but for those that come after me. That’s really my goal for the future and attending LSU, with one of the best business programs in the country, is just another step to get me there.”
Hardin is grateful for the scholarship and the fact that it allowed him to go to the school of his choice. He initially committed to Jackson State University as a nonscholarship student..
“With this scholarship, I get to do so much and get to places I never thought I’d be and God has truly blessed me,” he said. “And I thank Sallie Mae and the Thurgood Marshall Fund for being there.”
Sallie Mae in 2017 partnered with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to create the Bridging the Dream scholarship award, which Hardin received. It expanded its award from 10 to 25 students in 2022.
“I believe everyone should have access to higher education and I really feel like our scholarship helps those who normally don’t have access to scholarships and grants to pursue their dreams,” said Caron Jackson, a spokesperson for Sallie Mae. “I’ve spoken to KamDyn to hear about his dreams and what he wants to pursue, and I’m just really excited to watch him and support him on his journey because I really feel like he’s going to make a difference in this world.”