A finalist for the 2001 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship, Griffin was so impressed by the other candidates, and so pessimistic about her chances for the award, that she neglected to write an acceptance speech. So when Griffin was announced as the winner at the Feb. 13 Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Awards Banquet [see separate story], she had to overcome her surprise and speak extemporaneously.
"My mom always told me to be prepared for anything in life - I guess I should have listened this time," she said afterwards with a smile, recalling the teary, off-the-cuff but heartfelt remarks she gave at the podium.
Tiffany Griffin, '02: "Some people go through life crying when things don't go their way, but that's the worst thing you can do. I believe in that old saying, 'If it doesn't kill me, it will make me stronger.' That's a good way to think when things aren't going your way." (Photo by Justin Knight)
"When I read their biographies I told myself that there was no way I was going to win," said Griffin, a native of Springfield.
But Griffin has an impressive biography of her own. A communications and psychology major in the College of Arts and Sciences, Griffin is a member of the Jenks Leadership Program and the International Assistant Program. She has served as a mentor for a high school student from Dorchester through the College Bound Mentoring Program and as a tutor for the Options Through Education Program. She also has participated in service activities through the Roxbury Food Bank and the Baldwin Elementary School Olympics.
Earlier this year, Griffin organized a talent show called "Mosaic" to raise funds for the Jackson-Mann Community School in Allston.
"It would be dumb of me to be here and not give back. Sure life hasn't been easy for me, but it could also have been much, much worse," said Griffin in a recent interview. "I'm thankful for what I have.
"Empathy and compassion have to be a part of daily life," she said.
Griffin says she uses the lessons learned through her family's struggle in inner-city Springfield to help those around her.
"My mom raised us by herself, so she was also my dad," said Griffin. "She had to discipline me and hug me. I took a lot from that."
For Griffin, one of the keys to overcoming adversity is to be hopeful about the future.
"Some people go through life crying when things don't go their way, but that's the worst thing you can do," said the aspiring writer. "I believe in that old saying, 'If it doesn't kill me, it will make me stronger.' That's a good way to think when things aren't going your way."
Griffin said part of having hope is to know what lies ahead and, as her mother taught her, to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities.
"I have to admit that when I was in high school I never knew what was out there," said Griffin, who credits her mother and a school guidance counselor as formative influences who put her on the path to higher education.
The lack of communication about available opportunities for young people, Griffin says, results in despair that leads to self-destructive behavior.
Griffin said despair is evident not only among inner city children, but also in the faces of sheltered students who come from wealthy families, and go through life ignorant of the world around them.
This ignorance can be overcome, she said, through the realization that "everyone from every background has something to offer.
"I think that was part of what Dr. King was trying to say," said Griffin. "He wanted us to see each other for who we really are, and he did so in a peaceful way.
"I am honored to be associated with his name now," she said.
Griffin hopes that by winning the scholarship, which pays for 75 percent of senior-year tuition, she will able to devote more time to reaching out to younger students and letting them know about the opportunities that come through being hopeful - and being prepared.
"You have to be ready for all that life offers," said Griffin. "I think I'm going to be."
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