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Chamberlyn Smith: Four to Finish

Chamberlyn Smith enrolled at Johnson C. Smith University straight out of high school, but arrived already possessing sophomore-level credit hours.

The English major began taking college-level courses concurrently with her regular curriculum in eleventh grade at Middle College High School in Memphis, Tenn.

“My first-period English class was at 9 a.m., then at 10:50 I’d take college-level English at Christian Brothers University,” Smith said. She graduated high school in May of 2017 and by the time she set foot on JCSU campus that fall, had amassed over 30 credit hours.

She did it through hard work. Raised by a single mother who worked hard to ensure the middle child of three attended the best schools, Smith made straight A’s almost her entire high school career.

“Education was really important to my mom. She didn’t ask anything of me other than to do my school work. People thought she was strict,” Smith says. “Mom had two jobs, went to school and worked full time. She didn’t have time for us to be slacking off—she doesn’t play.”

Being active in Debate Club, a student ambassador and a high school cheerleader, Smith earned her first B in a college-level history class. She doubled down and was valedictorian of her 2017 graduating class.

“I had worked four years to get that spot. I tried really hard and I thought the ACT defined me. But  that B my senior year reshaped my outlook on life. I thought I had to hang it up, but my mom was in my ear. She said I would always be No. 1, and not anybody’s No. 2—not in relationships, academics, my career, or anything else.”

She suffered another blow at the height of success when her estranged father, who had accepted an invitation to her graduation, was a no-show.

“Even though he’d had no parts in my success, I’d wanted him to be a part of my day,” Smith said. “I have no resentment toward him; my mom picked up the slack pretty well. But I realized I’d let him define my image of success. It was about envy; my friends had double-parent homes. But it took that to make me see I’d secretly been putting him before my mom the entire time. It validated what my mom said—I have everything I need to be successful, inside of me.”

Her graduation speech, which Smith describes as “epic,” is still played on Shelby County Schools’ website.   

Smith has interned in the Athletics Department since Fall 2017, and each year they request her again. She facilitates game set-up, fills in at the will-call ticket booth, and keeps track of paperwork for student athletes in golf, softball, track, volleyball, football, and most other JCSU sports. She’s also been tapped as President Clarence D. Armbrister’s athletics liaison, so she assists him in whatever he needs at games.

Overall, she’s happy she chose JCSU—and glad she will be graduating in under four years.

“It’s a bit tougher to challenge yourself that way, but the pay-off and satisfaction is worth it,” Smith says with a smile.


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