Being a 49er means something different to each individual on campus. For some, it means wearing green and white everyday. For others, it means watching basketball games on pins and needles. The academics, the culture, the atmosphere and the people are facets of life at UNC Charlotte that define being a 49er for each student.
For 20-year-old Darnell Terrell*, Durham native, being a 49er is about secrecy.
“Basically, I’m not a student here. Literally, logically, legally, I’m not a student here. Yet, you can see me eating in Crown, getting onto the computer, logging in as if I had my own log-in, spending [declining balance (DB)] or even just simply crashed out in the dorm, like even probably able to get in myself,” said Terrell, a student at a local community college.
Prior to the start of the fall 2011 semester, Terrell received an acceptance letter to UNC Charlotte. He filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As his excitement to attend UNC Charlotte in the fall escalated, he received a crushing blow.
“Financial aid sucks. I didn’t fill it out right, because my aunt didn’t actually claim me on her taxes. Since I wasn’t claimed on anybody’s taxes, I had to file as independent, but I didn’t have any income source and I didn’t have any paperwork that proved I was independent,” said Terrell. “I was supposed to get financial aid. I thought I was getting it and I didn’t.”
When his application for aid was rejected by the government, Terrell instead enrolled in a community college in Charlotte, still eager venture away from his hometown to explore his future. “I wanted to go somewhere and try and do something,” he said.
At first, Terrell lived a normal life in Charlotte, staying at one of his family member’s homes, and attending school. When his family member kicked him out, Terrell thought all of his dreams were about to be shattered. “I either had to give up, go home and basically just say ‘Man whatever is meant for me out there is just what’s going to have to be,’” said Terrell. “And what I found was nothing positive. There’s nothing that makes you feel like ‘Yo, staying here I can make it.’”
Instead, he turned to a close friend who lived on campus at UNC Charlotte. The temporary solution turned into a permanent situation. “Without the three friends that I have, I would pretty much be S.O.L. I would have no place to be in Charlotte,” he said.
His semester has been one of fun, good times and lasting memories, he says. “I basically lived the type of semester every college student wants. To not have to go to classes that much, enjoying eating the pizza and Raman Noodles and the quickie fast food that we eat, and go to the different events and getting the free food. I even performed in a few events. Joined a few clubs,” he said.
As he lives his life as a 49er, Terrell continues to take classes at community college. He strives to receive his transfer degree and be an official student at UNC Charlotte. “I want to be a 49er. I pretty much already am. I can guarantee you that at least one person from any type of circle knows me,” said Terrell. “They might as well just print me out a UNC Charlotte 49er ID card.”
Despite the fun he is having as he immerses himself in life on campus, the pain of his lies weighs on him. “The worst part is that it is, in fact, a secret,” said Terrell. “What also sucks is worrying that you might be a burden on some people. We’re all the same age. As a coming-of-age adult, you shouldn’t have to carry another coming-of-age adult on your back.”
There are many people on campus who know the truth about him, says Terrell. He has many close friends who have helped him along the way, and they don’t look at him any differently. “I know people and they know me, and they just see me as a good friend, someone that they say ‘Oh, well, you’re a 49er’ to. Almost, I say. I’m more like a 39er.”
When Terrell becomes an official 49er, he has plans for his first day. “I’ll swipe everyone into Crown that swiped me in. I’ll probably need a block plan, because I’ll probably waste like 40 swipes my first day.”
Family and friends back home in Durham are proud of Terrell, he says. When he goes home to see them, he receives nothing but praise. “They’re like ‘You’re doing something. You made it.’ And I’m telling them, I haven’t made it yet. I’m still trying. But they say that just the fact that I’m doing something different, I made it. It’s even more incentive to keep pushing until I’m a 49er, because I haven’t made it yet. I’m never going to feel like I made it until I am,” he said.
“The whole financial aid thing really did hurt me. I always feel that secretly, I don’t belong here, I’m not supposed to be here right now. And that hurts,” said Terrell. “Everybody has that desperate need and desire to be successful, and it seems like, and it’s almost been proven that it is impossible to be successful without college.”
Darnell Terrell isn’t a student at UNC Charlotte. He’s just a guy who lives on campus, eats in Crown and attends school events. He’s a man with a story to tell, and it isn’t over yet. “I love UNC Charlotte. I’ve got memories already. Charlotte’s that place, man.”
*Name has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.