DENMARK - The definition of the word "destiny" is "something to which a person or thing is destined," or "a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency" determining an individual's future, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
For Destiny Paris James, 20, a Denmark native on track to graduate from the University of Miami in the spring of 2019 with a degree in public health, her future took an exciting turn on Feb. 5.
That's when Aubrey Drake Graham -- known around the world as Drake -- a Canadian rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, actor and entrepreneur, came into her life in a big way.
"Last year in March, I interviewed with a scholarship committee here (University of Miami) and in that interview, I told my story: where I’m from, what it means to be at this university, how hard my mom has worked to help me cover tuition and take care of me while I was in college, the stress of losing my dad and working multiple jobs to get by," James said in a telephone interview this week. "This was a story that sat in the hearts of people here, and I had no idea."
She said she later received a call from the vice president of University Advancement, Darlene Rebello-Rao, asking her to film a video telling her story and encouraging donors to continue to donate to scholarship funds so students like her could get a college education without incurring an overwhelming financial burden.
"It turns out this was only a set-up for Drake to surprise me with the scholarship," James said.
It was a $50,000 scholarship.
Meeting Drake was a humbling experience, James said.
"It was breathtaking. He was so genuine and personable. He told me over and over that he was proud of me and knew I would do great, which meant so much to me," James said. "One of my favorite Drake songs is 'Started from the Bottom' because of the message behind it and being able to relate to it. Some of my go-to songs when I’m just relaxing and vibing are some of his older songs: 'Connect,' 'Make Me Proud,' 'Over My Dead Body.' "
She said her new favorite Drake song is "God's Plan."
"When he released it, I was like, 'Wow! This is a bop!' It was something I felt connected to, knowing that God has our life mapped out for us," James said.
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She said she had never even visited the University of Miami when she decided that's where she was going, "and prayed it worked out."
Since news about James receiving the scholarship from Drake began to circulate, life has been "a little hectic and overwhelming," she said.
"Literally, my email, Facebook, Instagram have been going non-stop," James said, adding that she's been interviewed by numerous media outlets and networks including ABC's "Good Morning America," the BBC and MTV. "I have had non-stop calls all the way to 10-11 at night and little to no sleep. I had to take a day off from interviews (on Wednesday) because I could not talk and was starting to getting sick."
She noted that last week this time she was just a normal student working and getting things done.
"A week ago, I was just going to class Monday through Friday, working two jobs on campus and attending E-Board meetings and team practices for my poetry organization (Speak What You Feel Poetry Club)," James said. "I am still doing all these things, but with the added excitement of interviews and people recognizing me all over campus."
The death of her father, Gerald James Sr., from lung cancer fueled her desire to pursue a degree in public health, she said.
"One month after his passing, I started a cancer awareness initiative by the name of Live 2 Win Fighters, along with two of my cousins, Ladovia and Betty," James said. "We organized and hosted a 3K Cancer Awareness Run/Walk in Denmark in one month’s time, and it was successful. It was at that moment I knew I wanted to work in disease prevention and awareness."
At the University of Miami, James is a mentor in the INSPIRE program, in which UM students are paired with students from Booker T. Washington High School. She received the Black Alumni Society's Woodson-Williams- Marshall Association Scholarship and the Dr. Robert Moore Scholarship in addition to being on the Dean’s List and Provost’s Honor Roll for fall 2017.
James was the salutatorian of the Denmark-Olar High School class of 2015 and student body vice president. She also played soccer.
Asked who her role models have been, James said, "It is hard for me to pinpoint just one role model. I’ve picked up on so many different qualities from my mom, my dad, my siblings and other family members that have molded me into the person I am today."
"The reason I’ve worked so hard, though, is to see my mom, Sherron Washington, happy," she said. "She deserves so much recognition for always making it happen, never letting me go without and instilling in me the importance of education at a very young age."