Mother’s passing fuels student’s motivation to succeed
— This article is shared with permission from Summit Education Initiative (SEI)
— Daejah McCormick, an 18-year-old student from Kenmore High School, is often the first to arrive and last to leave in her Culinary Arts Program class. She most enjoys keeping busy; she feels most productive and focused when she’s in the kitchen preparing food.
McCormick is a go-getter. Perhaps that’s why she was so determined to apply to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York—the nation’s best culinary school.
And there’s a good chance that’s one of the reasons she was accepted, too.
“I didn’t want to settle for just anything when I got accepted to the best culinary school in the country,” McCormick says. “How could I pass that up?”
Although McCormick’s family supports her endeavors, she realizes it’s her responsibility to allow herself to move forward. She remembers applying that mindset after a rough freshman year, when she began focusing more on school and working harder to turn around her life.
But after losing her mother at age 17, finding the motivation to continue pursuing her goals was not easy for McCormick. “It hurts,” she says. “I think about it a lot, and it doesn’t go away at all.”
McCormick was stuck. But she returned to school two weeks later—walking into warm, welcome hugs from friends—and focused on raising her GPA. She even achieved honor roll that semester. She told herself, “You have to be the role model.”
As Culinary Arts Instructor Clayton Cundiff says, “Daejah is one of Kenmore High School’s brightest students to ever walk the halls.”
McCormick remembers how her mother was always open with what she expected of her children. For that reason, McCormick says her mother’s passing “fuels” her motivation to focus on education and her future.
She begins classes at CIA on June 20—her mother’s birthday.
The cook in the kitchen
Because her mother had suffered from a back injury, McCormick assumed cooking responsibilities at home as a teenager. She enjoyed frying chicken and fish, but her favorite dishes to make are soups.
McCormick smiles as she remembers hearing the positive feedback from her mother, twin brother and younger sister after they tasted the meals she prepared.
“It felt good hearing those comments,” she says. “It showed me there was something I was good at.”
Now, McCormick lives with her aunt and cousins. She doesn’t cook for them often, but McCormick still has many opportunities to practice her culinary skills at school and at work.
Yet, in Cundiff’s class, McCormick learns much more than food preparation techniques. “I’ve learned patience is key,” she explains, referring to working with other students. “Teamwork is necessary in the kitchen. You soon figure out the strengths and weaknesses of others. And sometimes you have to pick up where others lack.”
Measuring ingredients in the kitchen has also made math class a bit easier to understand—particularly fractions.
“Culinary class has also helped me with my procrastination,” McCormick adds, grinning. “I need to get everything done before I leave the kitchen, so now I also finish more homework before I leave school. Coming in here is like going to work.”
In addition to maintaining an above 3.0 GPA for several semesters, McCormick has also worked in the kitchen at Acme Fresh Market on Manchester Road for almost a year. She makes brownies and cookies, as well as prepares salads and fruit.
The head chef at her Acme location was most excited to hear McCormick got accepted to CIA; “He gave me a big hug,” she says.
McCormick has a bright vision for her future. “My idea is to open a restaurant for people with diabetes after I finish school,” she says, explaining the limitations of her own diabetes diagnosis. McCormick says she would establish her restaurant at home, in Akron, where she anticipates a lot of support from family and friends.
Her plan to make that happen? To study applied food science at CIA to better understand how food affects the body, and to also take classes in restaurant management.
But going to CIA makes McCormick a little nervous. Until recently, she had a difficult time opening up to others. Living on her own in an unfamiliar place and meeting new people—very soon after graduation—is nerve-wracking.
“It’s scary, but I know I can do it because I’ve overcome other experiences before,” McCormick says. “It’s hard; you have to take one day at a time. But in that moment is when you have to give all you’ve got.”
According to McCormick, “At the end of the day, despite your situation, people will show empathy if something goes wrong. But it’s up to you to decide where to go from there.”
From Culinary Arts Instructor Clayton Cundiff: “Daejah McCormick has been working diligently to obtain scholarships for her studies at the Culinary Institute of America. To date, she has received $15,000 in scholarship monies per year but she need another $7,000 per year to cover the full tuition. We are inquiring for local scholarships to help fund Daejah’s education and help her dream come true. Feel free to contact Daejah at (330) 962-9425 or [email protected].”
Daejah also has set up a GoFundMe page to help with school costs. Click here for more info.