A Confident Return
Near the end of Christine Singleton’s sophomore year at Spelman College in Atlanta, her father died. She was devastated.
Over the next two years, Singleton, who had always been a dedicated student, struggled to find her footing in the classroom again. She felt depressed and “deeply, deeply overwhelmed.” She would enroll in courses at Spelman but then her resolve would falter and she would miss class, ignore emails and fail to complete assignments. She’d eventually withdraw from classes and then try again the next semester without success.
Finally, in February 2018, Singleton realized that she needed to return home to Richmond and focus on her mental health — a decision that she now says saved her.
“I have a lot of family support here at home,” Singleton said. “I needed to take the time to grieve properly — to sit and grieve and reflect and to think about my dad without worrying about school.”
Singleton, who grew up in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, has two older siblings with special needs. Her sister has cerebral palsy, and her brother has autism. Singleton sometimes found that environment challenging as a child, though her family was a close, loving one. She was an indoor kid, forever reading books, particularly fairy tales, folk tales, mythology and the novels of Frances Hodgson Burnett, such as “A Little Princess” and “The Secret Garden.”
Singleton had known from her days in the Richmond Public School system that she would study English in college, but following her father’s death she found that the classes had lost the magic they had once possessed for her.
Back in Richmond, Singleton started therapy, worked a couple jobs and helped her mother with caregiving responsibilities for her sister. That was the rhythm of her life for two years. Then, when the pandemic arrived, Singleton had to quit her job — at the time, she was working in a call center — because both her sister and mother were high risks for COVID-19. Stuck at home and wondering what to do, Singleton decided it was time to go back to school. She started taking classes at Reynolds Community College, using federal COVID-19 relief money for tuition. Suddenly, Singleton remembered how much she enjoyed being a student.
After a year, Singleton transferred to VCU as part of the Mellon Pathways to the Arts and Humanities Program, which supports and guides students during their studies at Brightpoint and Reynolds community colleges and as they transfer to VCU. She remained in the program once she arrived at VCU and eventually became a mentor to other transfer students.
“I’d forgotten what I was capable of. I have this confidence that I’d really forgotten that I had. I’m not a shy person, especially not in the classroom, and it feels really good to me to have my voice heard again.” - Christine Singleton
Literature remained particularly exciting for Singleton, and she selected English as her major in the College of Humanities and Sciences. She graduated in May 2023. After a gap year, Singleton plans on returning to school in pursuit of an MFA in creative writing.
“I want to see how far I can go with writing,” Singleton said.
At VCU, Singleton was a part of the Black Student Union, the Student Literary Association and the English Club. In addition, Singleton received a Black History in the Making Award through the Department of African American Studies — a moment that particularly resonated for her. She attended the ceremony for the awards at Cabell Library with her mother, two aunts and an uncle. Singleton believes she valued her second run as a college student more than she did her first one. She knows how much she has gone through to get this opportunity.
“It’s like I’d been given a second chance, and I didn’t want to ruin it,” Singleton said. “Even though I’m not ‘healed’ because I don’t think anyone ever can be, I do feel really, really good. And I feel very proud of myself.”