This story originally appeared in "The Aggie Way" blog. You can read more stories produced by the A&M women's basketball players and coaches at theaggieway.com.
Two lessons I was constantly taught as a young girl were to dream big and anything is possible as long as I set my mind to it.
Those ideas have become cornerstones of my life.
In high school, I held myself to a steep standard on and off the court. I detested the idea of being considered a "dumb athlete." That is what ultimately pushed me, and I proudly graduated cum laude in my 2012 graduating class at North Crowley High School in Fort Worth, Texas.
Coming to Texas A&M, I knew I wanted to take full advantage of all the opportunities of being a student-athlete at a university that focuses so much on earning a diploma. I challenged myself to pursue one of the most difficult degrees at Texas A&M, eventually selecting Architecture because of my long-held passion for drawing and design.
Many people may not know it, but architecture is one of the most challenging majors available at A&M. It is a rigorous program that focuses on creativity, extensive knowledge of architecture theory and history, design technology, and many other things that are only accomplished through long hours in the classroom and plenty of time researching, reading and working on group projects.
Early in my college career, I remember attending an academic meeting with advisors and staffers who questioned my decision and ability to balance architecture coursework and basketball. My freshman year, I was enrolled in Independent Studies, which is an undeclared degree plan. I had to prove to the College of Architecture that I could maintain a standard GPA of 3.2 as a student-athlete.
The department was hesitant about letting a student-athlete into their program because they knew how demanding the classwork could be. As a freshman student-athlete, this was a bit of a challenge, but I accomplished it. This undertaking set me back an entire year, but I was determined to show everyone that I could do it.
When I was finally enrolled in the architecture major my sophomore year, it was a rude awakening.
Attempting to balance basketball, classwork and my personal life bordered on grueling and nearly impossible. Prior to the basketball season, I regularly stayed up until 4 a.m. working on projects, only to have to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to be ready on time for our 6 a.m. team workouts. I was not getting much sleep and was completely exhausted. This lead to poor performances and not being able to produce how I wanted on the court. It was extremely overwhelming and stressful.
Top of Her Class
Chelsea Jennings completed her career with the A&M basketball team in March 2016, but she will accomplish an even more important milestone this month: becoming the first female African American student-athlete to graduate from the College of Architecture. Jennings blossomed athletically as a senior, when she earned the SEC's Sixth Woman of the Year award.
At that point in my life, I had never faced anything as difficult. I began to doubt my decision, as it was a struggle on and off the court. I was not producing for my team, and it hampered my academic success as well.
There were many basketball games where I didn't play a single second, and I would often go home and cry, wondering why I chose this route.
Coming out of high school, I was ranked among the top 50 players in the country, and I was recruited by some of the biggest names in women's basketball. Yet, here I was, struggling to even earn mop-up time at the end of a blowout win. I truly felt like it was impossible to be the best basketball player I wanted to be while trying to be the best student I could be. I felt like a complete failure, and I didn't know what to do about it.
It seemed the best decision might be to transfer and get a fresh start at a new college. I have never been a quitter, but it appeared like that was the most logical solution for me at the time. As a Christian, I prayed about my situation, and I knew God would deliver an answer. It was not until right before my junior season that the choice was made clear to me: I had to finish what I started right here at A&M.
My mindset changed immediately that year. I was confident and stronger, and in many ways, I felt like a new person.
It was amazing seeing how that confidence carried over to the court and the classroom. It wasn't long before everything started turning around. I was producing more on the court, and I was enjoying some academic successes.
Of course, I had my struggles, but I was more equipped to handle these situations. I believed in myself again with the help of God, family, teammates, and coaches. I truly and honestly would not have been successful were it not for them.
Last season, my final year to wear the maroon and white, the pieces continued to come together. Gone were the days of making excuses and worrying about the wrong things. My focus became to challenge myself to get better every day--in school, basketball and, most importantly, by getting more in tune with God.
My ultimate goal had transitioned from becoming the best basketball player or student I could be to attempting to be the best overall person I could be. I started setting more goals for myself instead of focusing on past failures.
This led to me attacking my senior year on the court with a Godly purpose, and the results were greater than I could have ever imagined. My scoring average in SEC games climbed into double digits and my minutes soared. In fact, the league honored me with the Sixth Woman of the Year award, a tremendous accomplishment considering how little I played during my first two years.
But perhaps my greatest honor will come this December when I walk the stage as the first female African American student-athlete to graduate with a degree from the College of Architecture at Texas A&M.
Now that graduation day is almost here, it is impossible not to think back to those lessons my family constantly preached to me when I was younger. Dreaming big and focusing your mind on something can make all the difference. Those two thoughts helped me live with a purpose. When I started embracing those values, everything in my life and career changed for the better.
I plan to pursue a professional basketball career in Europe in the coming months, and my experience at A&M prompted me to start an apparel brand called LWP. It stands for 'Live With Purpose,' and it is a true testimony to my time in College Station. Living a life with no purpose resembled being in a maze with no end, and the moment I began to 'LWP' was when my life and career began to change.
Through this journey as a student-athlete at Texas A&M, it became clear that direction is far more important than speed. It is more about finishing the marathon than blazing through a sprint. There were times when I did not realize why I went through so many exhausting obstacles, but now, I believe it was to be a testimony to others. I am proof that if you are patient, stay the course and lean on your faith, you can accomplish anything.
It's extremely rewarding to be able to give back to something about which you are passionate. We love coming back over here and love being involved. For as long as I can, I want to try and do more."