Worried that naming your kid something, erm, unconventional is going to hold them back? Well, let’s ease those fears. Because a woman named Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck — yes, that’s absolutely her real name — just earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership.
So yeah. That’ll be Dr. Marijuana now, folks.
Born into an unstable home life (that included not-so-remarkably-named sisters Robin and Kimberly), Marijuana was given her unusual moniker because her mother felt that it would “take her around the world.” She left her home at age fifteen, but for Marijuana, her mother’s prediction did have some truth to it. Mostly because, with a name like Marijuana Pepsi, she felt like she had a lot to prove.
“People make such a big deal out of it, I couldn’t get away from it,” she said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Throughout her life, people have had a range of reactions to her unique name — from flat-out refusing to address her as Marijuana and trying to shorten it to Mary, to “kindly” suggesting she change it, to utter disbelief. But in response, she has always firmly embraced her name, refusing to be called anything else.
The one exception? She goes by “M.P.” when she’s in a hurry and doesn’t have time for the usual questions and explanations that inevitably go along with introducing herself.
Sure, her name might bring to mind a stoner with a junk food habit, but despite this — or maybe because of it? — Marijuana has built a thriving and successful life for herself. A mother of three and grandmother of one, she lives with her husband Fredrick on a three-acre hobby farm in Illinois. In addition to recently earning her doctorate degree from Cardinal Stritch University, she works as a real estate agent. She is also the founder of Action as Empowerment, which is a performance coaching business whose goal, the website says, is to help clients create “an actionable plan to make your current vision a reality.” And who better to help people overcome obstacles than a woman whose very name has presented its own challenges?
Because while being named Marijuana Pepsi can no doubt be trying at times, it has also provided valuable inspiration and opportunities. The theme of Marijuana’s doctoral dissertation, for example, was “Black names in white classrooms: Teacher behaviors and student perceptions.” For this, she interviewed black students at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, who shared their experiences with name bias. It’s a scenario that Marijuana herself has seen played out in her own life, time and time again.
Marijuana Pepsi said classmates made fun of her name & teachers & bosses tried to urge her to get it changed but she refused: 'I've grown into my name because I am a strong woman.' Now she's Dr. Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck! If this ain't #BlackExcellence then what is? #BlackHistory pic.twitter.com/NpVw86NRr1
— Tyra Jackson (@IamTyraJackson) June 20, 2019
In fact, she’s planning to author a book that expands on her dissertation’s theme. And starting this fall, she’ll roll out the Marijuana Pepsi scholarship, which aims to give $500 each year to a deserving first-generation black student at Whitewater.
Pretty impressive for a person whose name causes society to raise its collective eyebrows literally everywhere she goes.
Regardless of the provocative nature of her unique name, Marijuana has never used that as a reason to hold her back. When she lectures as part of her performance coaching, she tells her students to not see a challenge as an excuse, but as a stepping stone. And she has certainly done just that — and then some. As it turns out, her mother was right. Imagine that.
Oh, and for the record? Dr. Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck neither uses marijuana nor drinks Pepsi. She does like ice cream floats, though.
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