Destiny James had no idea she was about to have the experience of a lifetime, when she agreed to meet with university staff on Monday.
The 20-year-old Denmark, S.C., native is a public health major at the University of Miami. And campus was abuzz that Drake, the singer, would be showing up on campus to record his latest music video among students.
But James had already committed to something more important: as a scholarship recipient, she had agreed to record a video for would-be donors. She figured if the video could help another student attend the school thanks to a scholarship, it was worth skipping the Drake video shoot.
But it was tough.
“My friends were blowing up the group chats, ‘Drake is going to be here,’” recalled James, who replied she just was not going to make it.
But when she arrived where university staff had asked her to go, she saw a swarm of students near a “huge set.” She was told, however, that the chaos was unexpected and unrelated to the video she was set to record.
Still, Drake’s staff placed a camera in her face and gave her a microphone, James said. They told her to keep looking at the camera, and deliver the message she was initially set to share with would-be scholarship donors.
“I’m just going, awkwardly filming my video in front of all these kids who want to see Drake,” James said.
Then the screaming got louder. Focused on the camera, James had no clue Drake was walking down the stairs – and up to her.
“He just walks up to me and says, ‘Hey, Destiny,’” James said Drake told her. “And I went crazy. ‘Did you just say my name?’”
Drake told her he had heard about her, where she came from and of her scholarship essay, James said. He added that for his new music video, he wanted to do something different and give back. “So I’m going to give you $50,000 to go toward your tuition,” he said.
“He kept saying, ‘I know you’re going to do great; I’m so proud of you,’” James said.
In past scholarship essays, James had highlighted what it meant for her to be a Denmark native attending an institution like the University of Miami. When she got accepted, she had never even visited Miami.
James said she was raised in a low-income, single-parent home in Denmark. Her mother worked hard, while also stressing education to her daughter. James did just that, bringing home As and dreaming of someday attending college, perhaps an Ivy League school.
“I just always wanted to go to these big, crazy schools that were so far away, and people would look at me like I was crazy,” she said.
Her grades and determination took her to the University of Miami, where she is scheduled to begin her senior year in the fall. She hopes to continue on to a Master’s degree and return to South Carolina once she’s done.
James’ goal is to work in disease prevention, especially in the Palmetto State’s rural towns. But that won’t be for a few more years. First, she’s got to get through her undergraduate degree – and the surprise of meeting Drake.
“It was a very humbling experience,” James said. “And it was very rewarding. It gave me the feeling that my hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.”
Cynthia Roldán: @CynthiaRoldan