I’m not sure how I knew at 18 that Howard University would help me become my best self, but I was right.

As I stepped on the yard for orientation on that famous first day of spring, I was amazed by not only the plethora of forward-moving young Black people in general (and let’s not forget the fine men) but at how dynamic the women were. Girls that looked just like me but so different, with widespread interests and goals that broke stereotypes simply by being.

The best of the best from high schools across America were right here. They’d knocked the SATs out of the park just like me, been school presidents, cheerleaders, athletes and at the top of their classes. They were well-rounded, funny, well-dressed, intelligent and ready to check that young man who thought it was a good idea to come at her the wrong way.

Hailing from Trinidad to New Jersey, they were aspiring lawyers, dentists, actresses, writers, poets, singers, psychologists, pharmacists ready to make their mark on the world.

And then, right before my eyes, “they” became “we.” I realized that I was among those women. We all had the ideas and the means to make our dreams come true. Howard University was the great equalizer. We were all here to make it happen and I wasn’t intimidated (ok, maybe a little tiny bit) but I was inspired more than anything else.

I learned that the Howard woman was about progression and legacy. She was about being the life of an epic party and getting up the next day for class like she hadn’t just made it to her room. She was about substance and style. She was about going for it and making her presence known. The essence of the Howard woman wasn’t exclusive to Howard of course, but was one of my first exposures to it on a peer level, aside from my mother and her dynamic circle of friends.

I’d sit in class and listen to the ideas and opinions of my sisters and think “Yes! Speak that!” And in turn, Howard U. became the place where I honed my confidence and comfort with my ideas and opinions. I was more comfortable and aware of my Blackness than ever. This was imperative to my growth. It was empowering and it was an incubator that I feel allowed me 4 (or 5) good years to block out the world and focus on being the best me.

And even these days, when I’m feeling particularly 20-something and unsure of where I’m going, the women of Howard still find a way to remind me of my own magic by basking in theirs.

My mother, my best friends, Taraji P. Henson and Debbie Allen remind me. The young woman that I always saw on campus that’s now living out her dream reminds me. The freshman year associate who owns her own company reminds me. The dorm floormate that always offers a heartfelt congratulations when I share an accomplishment reminds me.

So, to the women of Howard University: whether we’ve ever spoken or not, whether I’ve become close friends with you or not, just know that I do see you. I’m so proud of you and I thank you for helping me see the #BlackGirlMagic in me. #HU

Dominique Hobdy (@d_hobdy) is ESSENCE.com’s producer and fashion writer. When she’s not shopping, she’s writing about street style, fashion news and how to nail the hottest looks.

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