Her Own Words – Keena Atkinson

butterfly on many flowers


I consider Keena Atkinson to be a study in perseverance and determination.  I do not know many people who have made a declaration of intent in their lives and no matter what she has going on, gone after it with as much verve as Keena has.  She’s young, but she is not immature and I really dig that in her.  Keena is family (we really are related) and she is a young woman that I want to keep watching as she rises – I have no doubt that she will.  Here’s Keena in her own words.

* * * * * *

He Asked Me to Cheat

January 2015, I walked into my 4th attempt at a class that I needed in order to graduate with my undergraduate degree in Psychology at University of Wisconsin, Madison. I was a both terrified of getting a D again and irritated with myself for already getting a D three times in a row. The class was statistics. I needed a C in the class and for the last three semesters, I earned a D last semester, I almost had a C, but almost doesn’t count. This semester was also very different from my prior attempts. I now have 2 children. A 10-year-old and a 3.5 month old who was born in October. I am raising both of my children on my own as a 27-year-old single mother. Their fathers are not physically or financially in our lives at all. I did not know how I was going to pull off a full 17 credit course load, my 10 year olds busy extracurricular schedule, working to support my little family, acquaint my new little guy with the big new world he is living in, while exclusively breastfeeding, breast pumping and making time for friends, family, food, community and sleep.

Every time I struggled with an assignment for the stats class, I would ask myself, “How did I fail three times?” The first time I took the class, I got a tutor after the first exam. The tutor and I met every week for 2 hours from 8pm – 10, I did all of the homework and then failed all of the exams. I got a D in the class. Second attempt, I thought that I didn’t have to work so hard, because I thought that I would just have to do better on the exams. I didn’t do better, and I didn’t get any help. In addition, I was in a fresh relationship which occupied a lot of my time. Meanwhile I earned a second D. Attempt number three, I was pregnant, single, exhausted, nauseous, and had given up caffeine. My son and I moved three different times during the 16 week semester, and my pregnancy had complications. I was determined to finish the class with a C, but finished the class 2 points short and earned my third D. During my third attempt, however, I finally understood what I was not comprehending before. When I walked into the classroom 6 months ago, on attempt number four, I felt like I was in the sequel to Groundhog Day. This time, I did better on the exams, completed every single homework assignment, plus extra credit, I spent weeks on my research projects, and met with the instructor regularly. With no way of knowing my grade for sure, since the class would undergo several curves, I never slacked.

Still, our final class project was the hardest project I have ever done. It was a data analysis project with strict requirements and parameters using STATA, a software that I’d be fine with never using again. I spent two weeks on the project making sure that I did every single part of the assignment. I ended up with over 10 pages of scientific data analysis and figures.

As the semester wrapped up, I was finally starting my short summer break, I received an instant message on Facebook from a classmate that read as follows:

Hey Keena, how’s it going? My name is *Cole, and I was in your stats class this year. I struggled a lot this semester with heavy load of credits and the passing of my grandfather. I was just wondering… Do you think you can send me your final project for stats? I need to look over it for some things from mine that I didn’t get points for… I didn’t do so well on the final test and it put me back, so now I’m kinda just trying to scrape up as much points as possible to try to get a C in the class. If you could help that would be great. Feel free to text me at XXX XXX XXXX . Please let me know if you can help. -Cole

I immediately felt offended, and sent him a short response, to which I already knew the answer, “Hi, have we met? I am curious to know how you found me on Facebook?”

His reply was simply, “IDK I found u on the class list.”

In my head I go over a number of scenarios as to why he reached out to me of all people. I am certain, it is because my last name, Atkinson starts with an A, and my name is therefore, somewhere at the top of the list of 150+ students in the class, and the first person he found easily on Facebook. Regardless, the only thing that I know, is that he picked the wrong one to try to recruit for cheating. This time, I gave into my urge to send a long message. Instead of chopping this stranger’s head off for asking me to cheat by sending him the work that I SLAVED over while trying to rock my fussy baby to sleep in my arms in the dark, or in my car on the dashboard while my baby napped and my son was in basketball practice. Instead of demanding his exact location, so that I could go personally scream my frustrations in his face about how I wanted to cry because, I just needed someone to play with my baby for a few hours so that I could get deep into the project, or take my son to and from practice just once, so that I could stay at the library, I didn’t. When I wanted to let him know that this was my fourth round in this class and I felt like I still wouldn’t make the grade, and it seemed like my sweet little baby with the fat cheeks and the big thick thighs was always happy, content and easy to settle except for when mommy had an exam or project to work on. I tried to see things from his perspective: He was struggling, asking for help, and his problems matter. I sent the stranger requesting to copy snippets of my project this response:

“OK, well I’m not sending you my project. I am sorry you lost your grandfather. I truly can’t imagine your pain… I’ve never had one.

If you like, I can offer you some guidance on where you are stuck with your project.

I’d also like to share that I had 17 credits this semester and raised my two children (a baby who is now 7 months old and an 11-year-old involved in sports and strings) all by myself. No dad present, no babysitter in the evening, just me. I say that to encourage you not to give up on yourself. I don’t know who your TA is, but if they have given you an opportunity to catch up, then take it. Put everything that you have going on, on hold just for today and get your project and late assignments done. Do it the right way and you will have something to be proud of, knowing how hard you worked for your grade, and knowing that you gave it your all with no regrets. You are capable, otherwise you wouldn’t have made it this far.

Worst case, maybe ask your TA to give you an incomplete and an extension into the summer due to your untimely loss?

Good luck with your classes. Let me know if you need guidance. – Keena ”

The guy who wanted to cheat simply replied,“That’s amazing. Thank you for your support.”

And that was the last I ever heard from him.

Meanwhile, in the days following, I began checking my grades online every few hours, holding my breath, feeling my heart beating through my chest every time. The grades finally posted a week after the semester ended. My final grade… a C!

I closed my eyes and slowly exhaled. Elation, and relief washed over me. I was so happy to receive such a mediocre grade, but for me, it meant the difference between graduating on time, and it meant the difference between a semester wasted and a semester of hard work. I went online to register for my final required classes, and then sent out a save the date text to my parents and sister for my upcoming graduation in December.

This past semester taught me a lot. I did not know how I would do well with so much on my plate as a single mother, but I did it. In addition, how would I do it after failing so many times before? I was embarrassed, because I know that many people would have given up or changed majors after failing so many times. I decided to share my story in hopes of encouraging someone. When a job asks for a degree, they don’t ask what you went through to get it. The efforts that we make to meet our goals are personal to each of us. Being in college full-time as a nontraditional student is not easy. It means I am 27, poor, and free time is a rare luxury. Quitting, because of a challenge, however, is not an option. Obtaining my degree is a goal. I have worked harder than ever for it, and it has made me so much better! Taking statistics four times was truly an obstacle, but obstacles make things difficult, not impossible.

*Name changed for privacy of the student.


Keena Atkinson
Keena Atkinson


Keena is a single mother of 2 boys, K’Shawn and Kaleb, a decade apart. She is also a full time student, finishing a Psychology degree at University of Wisconsin, Madison in Dec 2015. Professional hairstylist, youtuber, basketball mom, community servant, and owner of K Naturally Welcome are just a few hats that Keena enjoys wearing which keep her busy. She also enjoys writing, family activities, gardening, crocheting, and crafts. Currently, Keena is working on meeting her short-term goals of meal prepping and getting back into the swing of exercise after her very long maternity and postpartum break, and blogging more on her bloghttp://keenasfa.blogspot.com/ She also aspires to become an avid couponer one day. To learn more about Keena, please find her on.




  1. // Reply

    Phenomenal Woman, Empowering, Strong, Steadfast,… Keena, I can go on and on… now, you and I have met before; however, we’re not personally familiar with one another. Deary, you’re truly a gift from Jehovah God… you have not a clue of how much you have just up- lifted me. Thank You. Keep God close.
    – Delerria

    1. // Reply

      Wow Thank you Delerria! I remember you and Juba and your story as a couple from the conversation mixtape. Y’all touched me that night as well. I’m so glad that you enjoyed my story.

  2. // Reply

    Your story is inspirational. Decades ago my father taught me that if you want something done, give it to a busy woman. You proved him right. Congratulations on making it past statistics!

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