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May 5, 2020

Class of 2020: After moving across U.S., Saginaw native discovered her place – and voice – at SVSU

Adapting to new environments and changing circumstances is nothing new to Imani Clark. What remains unwavering for the soon-to-be Saginaw Valley State University graduate, though, is her love for helping others by using her talent for communicating.
Clark this month will join 875 of her graduating peers at SVSU when she receives a bachelor’s degree in communication, graduating magna cum laude. Her path to that educational milestone included a number of detours. While more uncertainty remains ahead in her quest for a graduate school degree, already she has secured a full-time job in her field of study.
After beginning as a community volunteer in 2017 with The Ezekiel Project, Clark starting in August will work full-time in public relations and marketing for the social justice-seeking nonprofit based in Clark’s hometown of Saginaw.
“I have a very good job in a field I’m passionate about,” she said. “I’m grateful for everyone at SVSU who helped me get to this point.”
Clark’s education began in Saginaw, where she attended Handley Elementary School and Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy before moving with members of her family to Nashville. There, she graduated early and at the top of her class from The Academy at Opry Mills.
The move wasn’t her last experience with a big change in scenery. After initially attending college in Tennessee, she once again adapted to changing circumstances when her mother fell ill in Saginaw. Clark returned to the community, caring for her mother there while enrolling in courses at SVSU.
Clark began as a political science major. She switched her major three times before her enrollment in a communication course convinced her that she found her calling.
“I realized that communication is in my comfort zone; it’s my bread and butter,” she said.
As a child, Clark enjoyed performing in front of groups of people including family and audiences at school, church and local coffee shops. Her performances ranged from comedy routines to readings of her own poetry. Growing up, she also enjoyed acting. To this day, she still participates in poetry slams in which she reads her writing on a subject that has always inspired her: chronicling the experience of being black in America.
“Being in front of people is in my blood,” she said. “I never really had a choice. It’s who I am.”
Those experiences paid off in preparing her for her outside-the-classroom communication-related interests at SVSU.
Clark was a member of the university’s forensics team, which participates in competitive debating with peers at colleges across the nation.
“I didn’t know what forensics was at first, but then I saw that it was really in my wheelhouse,” she said. “When I saw that it’s a lot like acting, I realized, ‘This is me.’”
Clark also was chosen for the 2019-20 academic year as one of 10 students to participate in SVSU’s Roberts Fellowship Program, a leadership development initiative that typically culminates in a trip to Asia each May. Because of the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, though, that trip was canceled for this month. Her last few meetings with her fellow Roberts Fellows members and their mentors were conducted via the Internet video-conference app Microsoft Teams.
“It was disappointing that we didn’t get to finish the program the way we planned,” Clark said. “We’ve all grown really close to each other, so there’s still talk about doing something together in the future. We may go on a trip overseas together ourselves.”
Her participation in both the forensics and Roberts Fellowship programs helped mold her as a leader, Clark said.
“When I started at SVSU, I wasn’t sure where I fit in,” she said. “What I learned was, there isn’t one way to fit in. You have to make your own way. I have the tools to make my own way and craft my own identity.”
Clark said she hopes that "way" includes enrollment in a graduate program relating to communication. Those plans are temporarily on hold. The COVID-19 pandemic caused her preferred college to change its enrollment plans. Now she is seeking other options – and once again adapting to changing circumstances – which may lead her to delay those graduate school plans.
She’s OK with that, though, now that she found firm footing in a profession she enjoys in a community she loves.
“SVSU really helped me reconnect with Saginaw after I had been away in Nashville,” she said. “SVSU helped me discover some of the things I love. I had the opportunity to be part of things I wasn’t aware I could be part of.”