Friends of Sade Topps often tell her she should be a motivational speaker and, after one conversation with her, it’s hard to disagree. She simply radiates positivity. Everything, in its own little way—yes, even working full time through college for seven years, and even losing her job—has been a blessing. There are silver linings everywhere, and that boundless optimism will serve her well in her next project—launching a multicultural alumni chapter at UAA.
A rough reassessment
When Sade graduated last May, she became the first member on either side of her family to earn a college degree. Likewise, she was the first to attempt college. It wasn’t part of the conversation growing up, and it certainly wasn’t her go-to plan after high school. Instead, she landed a receptionist job in Anchorage and settled into the working life.
All was well for a few years, but a string of misfortunes caused her to reconsider her path. Her younger brother was shot, and soon after her grandmother passed away. Prioritizing family, Sade went to the hospital every day to see her brother, eventually losing her job and, consequently, her apartment. Then, as one extra slight, she wrecked her car.
It was an overwhelming string of events, and it all called for a little soul-searching. “I remember for a long time I was going through the motions. I went to work every day, I paid my bills and I never had any money,” she recalled. Everyone around her was living paycheck to paycheck, and she realized she had a blank slate ahead. But first, she needed a break from Anchorage.
She relocated to Charlotte, N.C., to be near her best friend, but only found herself in the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle again. After a year, she decided to come home and, after three days in Alaska, she had a job at Wells Fargo.
It was one of many blessings that came Sade’s way. While looking through the employee benefits, she noticed a tuition reimbursement program for full-time employees. Over the next seven years, Sade worked full time in the home mortgage department and squeezed in classes on her lunch breaks and evenings.
And then… she was laid off.
Good news from bad news
“I had to keep my composure,” she recalled after receiving the bad news, but not for the reasons you’d think. “In my mind this was such a blessing.” Ever the optimist, Sade immediately latched onto the positive outcomes. With a severance package based on tenure, followed by unemployment checks and the willingness to move back in with mom, she could finally attend UAA as a full-time student.
Graduation last May, obviously, was a big deal. “We’re only allowed five tickets [to graduation], and I was hustling,” she laughed. “My best friend flew up, my dad and my little sister flew up, my big sister came, my uncle came. It was awesome.”
It was a challenging road, but Sade had faith on her side. “I believe in God and I feel like it was just all part of His plan,” she said, smiling.
Uncharted job territory
Throughout her time at UAA, Sade never questioned why she was in the classroom. The only thing she remembers thinking… “This better pay off.”
And it has. A month after graduation, Sade was in foreign territory, deciding between multiple job offers. She started temping in the loans department at a bank, but was offered a recruiter position at a financial firm. When she tried to leave the bank job, she received quite a surprise. “The boss called me into his office and said, ‘OK, what do we have to pay you to keep you?’ And I’m like, ‘What is going on! Is this what a degree does?’” she laughed.
It was a big decision, but she opted for the financial recruiter job, partly because it scared her. Having worked in banking throughout college, she was ready to tackle the unknown. “I felt when I graduated I had a new sense of confidence,” she said. Sade now works as a financial recruiter at Waddell & Reed, a nationwide financial advisor service. She has her own office, she’s building a strong track record and, for the first time in a while, she has time on her hands.
Which leads us to her next big project. Sade is currently planning a new alumni chapter for UAA’s multicultural graduates, and she has big visions for what it can accomplish.
“This chapter is what I really want to get started. I feel like it’s so important,” she said. Growing up, she didn’t have many examples in her life of what a college degree could provide. Now, she wants to make sure the younger generation in Anchorage knows the outcomes of college. Having lived Outside, she sees the immense value of the Anchorage community. “Alaska is so diverse, and Anchorage specifically,” she noted. “Here, you have help, you have opportunity and there’s no reason you can’t pursue what you’d like to pursue.”
Though originally she considered a chapter specifically for black alumni, she decided to expand the mission. “I felt that would be cutting myself short,” she said. “I want anyone who wants to be a part of it, because I feel like everyone will have something to bring.”
Her early list of ideas includes everything from barbecues to family fitness camps, hockey games and community volunteering and anything to create an impression in Anchorage. But those are just her ideas. “That’s the reason I want to speak with other people, because that’s just me,” she said. “I can’t imagine what other people would be thinking or willing to do. This whole idea is bigger than just me.”
Sade’s brightness is contagious, and she’s hoping to find others who share her enthusiasm. She wants to bring diverse voices to the table, with a diverse set of skills. Though still in the planning stages, she wants the chapter to be a powerful presence in town—“When we do come together, it can be a force.”
“I don’t want it to be just what black people need in the community or what Hispanics need. I want that cohesiveness. I want it to be, if you want something, we can help you.”
After a long academic journey—often challenging, but always optimistic—Sade’s degree has provided what she was looking for. “Now, I’m able to do the things I want to do,” she said. “It’s not ‘If I do this, then I can’t have that.’ Now I’m living comfortable, and I’m able to help other people.”
Are you ready to help as well? Can you feel that positive energy yet? Get involved and build the multicultural momentum in 2016. Just contact the Alumni Center at 907-786-1942 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get connected with Sade and the multicultural alumni chapter.
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement