Passing the Torch

The UW–Madison means something different to every graduate who walks off its campus. For some, it may simply mean you’ve received an education. For others, your most valuable takeaway may be the friends you’ve made along the way. From your first class as a first year student to throwing your cap in the air at Camp Randall, your journey at the UW is irreplaceable.

Tiffany Ike performs D.R.O.P.S. (Discrimination, Racism, Oppression, Prejudice, Stereotyping) at the Play Circle Theater, 2016. Courtesy Madison365

Tiffany Ike’s journey began in Houston. As a high schooler, Tiffany, a self-proclaimed poet, attended a poetry slam that she heard about on Facebook through someone who had beat her in a previous slam.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” she laughed. “But I got third place. Then I found out that this meant I took third place in all of Houston. They were like ‘Hey, we’ll see y’all at practice on Monday and I was like ‘what?’ So yeah, I accidentally made the slam team Meta-Four Houston.”

Through Meta-Four Houston, Tiffany competed at Brave New Voices, an international poetry slam organized by Youth Speaks.

“When I went, these two people got up on stage and talked about this cool full tuition scholarship called First Wave in Wisconsin,” said Tiffany. “I was like ‘ew, Wisconsin, yuck.’ But I was like ‘alright I’ll do it.’ I applied and now I’m here five years later.”

The First Wave Scholarship Program is a full-tuition scholarship program on campus that lasts for the duration of your time at the UW. Upon admission, students move to Madison early in the summer before fall semester as part of the Summer College Experience. Basically, this part of the program provides incoming students an opportunity to adjust to life in First Wave and on campus.

“I feel very lucky to have my first non-home experience with the First Wave community because it was almost like you were back in high school again,” said Tiffany. “You’re just with these 13 other people for the whole summer before going into classes. That was really cool, I got to know a small group of people and a lot of people of color.”

While a tight-knit community, one of First Wave’s main purposes is to encourage exploration and growth. Though still surrounded by the familiarity of poetry, other First Wavers pushed Tiffany outside of her status of a “self-proclaimed poet” into so much more.

“Ball and Chain,” Tiffany’s playwriting debut.

“I got to watch a lot of interdisciplinary art, so I moved from becoming just a poet to going back to long-form writing,” said Tiffany. “I became a screen writer and wrote a play and had that put up at the Line Breaks Festival. That was probably the pinnacle of my ‘oh shoot, I’m creating things that are on big stages.'”

First Wave was a jumping off point for Tiffany, who early into her college career found herself involved in a wide variety of different organizations and even running for the UW Track and Field Team. Working for the Madison Public Library, the Wisconsin Singers, UW Athletics, and more, Tiffany began her education outside of the classroom early on.

While she enjoyed everything she was part of, the JVN Project holds a special place in her heart. The JVN Project is a hip-hop organization on campus that seeks to serve and empower, which was built from the life and memory of former First Wave student John Vietnam Nguyễn. Through the JVN project, Tiffany learned to be a community organizer by putting on three separate hip-hop festivals during her time at the UW.

While Tiffany was involved in countless organizations and programs, First Wave and the people in it molded her experience at the UW into what it was. Tiffany said that First Wave taught her three main lessons – patience, humility, and grace.

“Patience meaning that everything that you thought you were good at or held true to yourself while you were under your parent’s roof immediately goes away as you build your own person and write your own self,” she said. “But that process hurts. It sucks sometimes but it’s amazing. There’s so much growth that comes from being in college and First Wave was a catalyst for that for me. That required a lot of patience from other people as well as myself.

“Humility came from all the aspects of growth being painful. Sometimes you might do some stupid stuff, but you’re checked on that. First Wave is a group that will check you on your foolishness. I’m grateful for all the times I was checked, and for being able to love people enough to check them because it’s really easy to let people do what they want and keep moving.”

“And then grace. Leaving room for grace is like ‘dang, I don’t know how I would have responded in a situation so I can’t be mad at you for how you responded.’ Giving people, including yourself, room to mess up. You’re not smarter than anyone and everyone has something to teach you.”

While her college career will come to a close this May, Tiffany remains forever grateful for the time she’s spent and the lessons she’s learned at the UW.

Following graduation, Tiffany will attend graduate school at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles to pursue an MFA in writing and producing television.

“I’m ready to go,” she said. “But in a positive, in a passing the torch, moving on kind of way. Wisconsin is where I came and became an adult. It will have a place in my heart even though it was stressful and cold all the time. White everywhere – double entendre,” she laughs.

“I got to learn to be an organizer, an artist that takes their time, a better friend, a person who can cry at beautiful things. I learned that all here.”

While her goal is to make television shows, Tiffany has another goal which may take priority.

“I wanna dunk. That’s my goal honestly. I want to make clear that I will dunk before I graduate. You heard it first – sometime in my life I’m going to dunk. And make awesome TV.”