When Anna Duvall ’20 was growing up in rural Wofford Heights, Calif., college didn’t seem to figure into her life prospects. She was 10 when her father was killed in a car accident while driving to work, a crushing emotional and financial blow that left the family struggling to put food on the table.
Duvall, meanwhile, had no affinity for education. Her father dropped out of high school (later earning his GED), while her mother didn’t graduate on time. Neither went on to earn a college degree.
“I dreaded school, I hated it,” Duvall says. “It was not for me.”
But her high school teachers saw promise in their reluctant charge. English teacher Randi Chappell ’06 even suggested to a skeptical Duvall that she consider applying to U of R. Instructors saw leadership potential. They saw an intellect that could make a difference in the world. Duvall was unmoved. But the seed was planted.
“As the year went on, I looked more and more into it,” she says. “I got more interested. My teachers pushed me a lot. I was really scared that I wouldn’t be able to measure up academically, and that I would be too challenged.”
Chappell encouraged Duvall to visit campus. Her mother was unable to drive the nearly 200 miles to Redlands, so Chappell made sure it happened.
“Mrs. Chappell and her husband drove me to the college,” Duvall says. “As soon as I stepped on campus, I knew I wanted to attend. It felt like home.”
Gaining admission was only one hurdle in becoming the first member of her family to earn a college degree. There was the cost to consider. But Duvall is now the second-ever recipient of the Richard and Bonnie Fisher Endowed Scholarship, which, “point blank means I get to attend the University of Redlands. It means I get to go to school and live on a beautiful campus and build my future,” she says.
An English major, Duvall hopes that her future includes becoming a high school English teacher, in part because she wants to give back to a profession that did not give up on her.
Duvall earns additional funds toward the cost of her education by taking part in work-study—a program that includes 66 percent of the U of R College of Arts and Sciences student body, providing not only financial support but valuable experience. Last year, Duvall worked as a tutor at Victoria Elementary School in Redlands; this year, she’s a community assistant at Cal-Founders Hall—plying those same leadership skills that her high school teachers saw in her. Duvall is also vice president of the campus’s SPURS (Service, Patriotism, Unity, Responsibility, and Sacrifice) National Honor Society, which emphasizes community service and academics.
As an incoming first-year student, Duvall took part in the Summer Bridge program, a pre-college program that provides incoming first-generation and financial aid-dependent students with tools for success. She credits Summer Bridge with connecting her to a number of people and organizations that have helped her thrive and love the University.
Now she’s returning the favor. Duvall is a mentor for Students Together Empowering Peers (STEP), counseling and offering moral support to first-year students, providing resources and advice to ease their transition into higher education.
Part of the experience is teaching students how to weather the inevitable challenges they’ll face. Duvall received her own scare during her freshman year, when a paperwork snafu resulted in her financial aid being canceled. It took three months to reinstate the financial assistance, with the help of U of R faculty and staff.
“As first-generation students, we don’t have our parents sitting next to us saying, ‘OK, you’re going to check this box. This is what you need to pack for college, and this is what you need to expect,’” she says. “Instead, we have the administration and peers ready to tell us, ‘This is how it’s going to go down.’”
Duvall is circumspect about her past and her ongoing journey.
“Nobody gets anywhere they’d like to be if they complain about it,” she says. “Yes, people have better lives than I do, but there are plenty of people who have worse lives. You have to work with what you’re given. Then, if you work hard enough, you’re going to become something greater than yourself.”