Around this time every year, students across the country celebrate their graduations. We hear heartwarming stories of their journeys and achievements. This year in St. Louis, Missouri, one such story has a unique and powerful twist. Amariah Hardwick is a graduate with a story that exemplifies a different kind of Black excellence. She is not only the first Black trans woman but the first trans person ever to graduate from Harris-Stowe State University.

Harris-Stowe State University, St. Louis’ local Historically Black College and University (HBCU), boasts a rich and influential history. This makes Amariah’s achievement even more remarkable. Originally from Detroit, Amariah immersed herself in St. Louis culture after moving here for college. She became a prominent advocate for people of color and the LGBTQ+ community in Missouri and an emerging model and competitor in the ballroom scene. I had the opportunity to sit down with Amariah and ask her a few questions about her journey to this monumental achievement.

DELUX:  When you graduated from high school, what vision did you have for yourself, and how did it lead you to this university?

Amariah: After graduating from high school, I didn’t envision much because I just wanted to get it over with. Struggling with gender dysphoria, I needed isolation to figure out what was best for me. I worked a 9-to-5 job for about two years before deciding to go back to college. I wasn’t satisfied with a predictable life. During my transition, I realized my worth and what I brought to the table. Conversations with peers led me to pursue higher education.

DELUX: What was your experience like on campus? Tell us the good and the ugly. 

Amariah: Initially, I lived off-campus, so my experience was limited until 2022 when everything changed. I expected to be embraced by my Black peers, but being Black and trans didn’t mix well. Instead of seeing another Black individual pursuing higher education, they focused on me being trans. This led me to advocacy work on campus, and I eventually became the LGBTQ+ Alliance President. I aimed to equip Harris-Stowe State University with the tools, skills, and language to embrace LGBTQ+ students, especially trans women. As president, I organized events with local community activists and drag performers, raised awareness against anti-drag bills, and introduced ballroom culture to my alma mater. I wanted these issues to be visible and discussed to liberate myself and other students. 

DELUX: Now that you’ve graduated, what’s next for you?** 

Amariah: I plan to continue contributing to grassroots organizations that help develop future leaders, including myself, through capacity-building workshops, healing work, and professional development. I also intend to expand my career as a public figure. 

DELUX: What advice would you give others pursuing higher education? 

Amariah: My advice is not to question the journey but to take action. Even when faced with adversities, you never know what the world may offer you. You are the narrator of your own story; don’t let stereotypes, preconceived notions, and “what ifs” dictate your path. 

DELUX: What does it feel like to be the first trans woman of color to graduate from the university?**

Amariah: The first thing that comes to mind is why it took until 2024 for this to happen, and what my alma mater can do to track the retention rates of LGBTQ+ students. I don’t take pride in being the first; I am concerned because there should have been someone before me, continuing the legacy. I am fortunate to initiate it, and I will ensure that I am not the last. 

DELUX: Give me two quotes that you’ve learned through your college experience that could help others for life.

Amariah: Two quotes that helped me persevere are “We don’t have the luxury of shame” – Blanca from *Pose*, and “I cannot cry over spilled milk” – Debra Hardwick. These reminded me that despite feeling embarrassed, my position and identity do not afford me that luxury. I must get up and take action. Every day is a reset button to make history

As we celebrate this historic moment, Amariah reflects on the challenges faced by Queer and Trans people on campus, as discussed with long-standing University staff. The daily struggles of LGBTQ individuals, especially Transgender women and Transgender women of color, persists on college campuses nationwide. While proud to be the first, she is more determined to ensure she is not the last. For every Trans girl who has walked the halls of any HBCU and faced insurmountable obstacles, she hopes to be an inspiration, showing that they too can succeed.

Maven Lee