What’s the best way to learn time management? How about working the overnight shift at UPS while attending college full-time and maintaining a 4.0 GPA?
That is the model freshly minted graduate David Birts used. Now he has earned the honor of Cheyney University’s valedictorian for the class of 2021, saying, without hesitation, that the revered HBCU gave him a second chance at success.
“It’s not easy to maintain a high GPA, but when I transferred to Cheyney I wanted to push myself to succeed,” said Birts. “I worked during the third shift. I went to school and woke up at midnight to go to work. That taught me about managing my time. It’s about essentialism – putting first things first even when life gets hectic.”
Birts knows about life getting hectic. After having completed one semester at Penn State University in 2017, life threw a wrench into his plans. His mother became ill, necessitating his temporary departure from school and putting a hold on his studies. But, through the lessons he learned from his mom, who is an educator with the Reading School District, he knew he was determined to excel.
By the summer of 2018, he was able to return his focus to education and applied to Cheyney, where he was admitted and awarded the Cheyney Keystone Scholarship.
“Cheyney was my chance to receive a great education,” said Birts. “One thing I’ve learned from being here is Cheyney wants to see its students succeed. Professors and staff members always want us to reach even higher and to push for greatness. That’s what Cheyney has always been about.”
During his three years at Cheyney, Birts has pursued a degree in business administration with a minor in hotel, restaurant, and tourism. He has maintained a 4.0 GPA every semester, sets a high standard for his fellow students as Chair of the Cheyney Honors Council, and is a Thurgood Marshall College Fund scholar. During his time at Cheyney, he assisted his peers and professors as a resident assistant, a CARES Mentor, and a peer tutor.
Professor Christopher Barnes, Department of Social Science, got to know Birts when he competed for the Starbucks Foundation Grant. Barnes said as a sophomore Birts stood out among all students that competed for the limited positions on the grant. His input, dedication, and perspective were outstanding throughout the entire process, Barnes said.
“David was beloved on this campus by faculty, staff, and his peers,” said Barnes. “He was the recipient of many academic opportunities and assumed many leadership roles to advocate for his peers. His professionalism, work ethic, and maturity appeared to be that of a senior from day one.”
Barnes continued, “I was fortunate enough to observe how quickly he learned and leveraged his knowledge on a meaningful research project – examining job readiness and diversity, equity, and inclusion practices throughout the Philadelphia region.”
Birts has also been an inspiration for his younger brother, who is enrolled at Cheyney. The two have been roommates and encourage each other to excel.
Birts plans to continue as a supplier diversity analyst for Ally Financial Inc., a leader in digital financial services. Last summer, he interned in Ally’s Early Talent Program, which allowed him to gain experience across several industries involving finance, accounting, economics, and business-related fields.
He is also thinking of going to law school.
“Valedictorian is a title I’ll carry for the rest of my life. It means I represent Cheyney at the highest level and that I’m an example of Black excellence everywhere I’ll be going,” he said.
“Life is not a free ride; if you want to make something out of your life you have to go for it, work at it and it might sound like a little thing but being punctual is important too. In the business world, people appreciate that. I’ll always value my time at Cheyney, America’s oldest HBCU.”