Languages come Easy to Graduating Senior

Posted April 29, 2024, 12:48PM

When Andraya Yearwood began studying Spanish in seventh grade, she would listen to songs in Spanish and read the lyrics. Then she would translate them into English.

“I would learn vocabulary through the songs,” Yearwood said. “I would see how the verbs were conjugated and the grammatical structures I learned through the lyrics.”

Languages have always come easy to Yearwood. She’s practiced Albanian with an Albanian friend, learned a bit of Igbo – a language spoken in Nigeria – studied Italian for a semester and learned some Swahili.

Yearwood, who is scheduled to graduate from North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in May, will spend the next school year studying Portuguese. She was recently awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship in Portuguese at Columbia University in New York City. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the fellowship pays a stipend of $20,000 plus up to $18,000 towards tuition. The Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at Columbia University will pay the remainder of the tuition.

Yearwood visited Brazil last summer and tests between intermediate and high in her ability to speak and write Portuguese. She originally was accepted into a university in London, England, but when the Columbia fellowship was awarded, she dropped her plan to study overseas.

“I know how hard my parents worked to keep me from having debt (during undergraduate studies),” Yearwood said.

Yearwood is a double major at NCCU, studying Spanish and interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in race, gender, and class. Additional, Yearwood minors in political science, and women and gender studies.

Originally from Cromwell, Connecticut, Yearwood was a high school athlete who ran track and was ranked tenth in the United States during her senior year of high school. When she came out as a transgender woman in high school, her participation in athletics gained a lot of attention.

“I’m trans and I was running on the female team,” Yearwood said. “I was performing well.”

While her neighbors in Cromwell did not discriminate, the same could not be said of people elsewhere.

“People were coming to my track meets, having petitions signed to try to get me to stop running,” Yearwood said. “People were like, you are cheating. You shouldn’t be on the girls’ team.”

The topic went national and a lawsuit took place in her junior and senior year. The attention also led to Yearwood being a subject of a 2019 documentary titled “Changing the Game,” released by Hulu.

Yearwood said running on the girls’ team was both a matter of gender identity and the policy of the state organization that oversaw high school athletics competition in Connecticut.

“There is a rule,” Yearwood said. “If you present as a girl during the day, you have to do the same in the sport.”

Ultimately, Yearwood would like to earn a doctorate in linguistic anthropology and become a professor.

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