But once committed to his academics, things quickly changed for the better; his first semester at Northern Virginia Community College was a turning point.
“It was the first time in my life where I actually felt like I was capable of attaining a good education if I just put my mind to it. And so that’s what I did,” Clay said, rightfully proud of achieving a 4.0 GPA throughout his first two college years.
As a result of his scholarly turnaround, he was determined to pursue a career in information technology consulting, which led him to attend a transfer open house on Grounds during the fall of his second year at NOVA. An eye-opening session with McIntire Director of Admissions Sadie Royal Collins convinced him to apply.
The following April, he was thrilled to discover his hard work paid off.
“I accepted my admissions offer and made my deposit to attend within the hour,” he recalled.
Arriving on Grounds that fall as a third-year student at McIntire was nothing short of surreal for him, he said. “Here I was, at one of the top undergraduate business schools in the nation, when just a few years prior I was working to attain my GED.”
His transition to UVA life took off before the first day of classes through McIntire’s three-day “Commerce Connections” orientation, where he met with faculty, staff and some fellow students who would become his first friends on Grounds.
Buoyed by an upbeat personality that helps him find the humor in any situation, it’s easy to see why other students gravitate toward Clay and his positive disposition. He modestly deflected that assessment and credited UVA’s more than 800 student-led organizations for making it easy to meet people who share mutual interests.
“Even as a transfer student, I’ve had ample opportunities to get involved,” he said. In his two years at UVA, he served as a student ambassador, a transfer mentor and a research and teaching assistant under professor Paul Seaborn, whom Clay acknowledged for helping him navigate the challenges of being a transfer student and pursuing his future in consulting.
Additionally, the IT & Management student served as program director for Madison House’s Creating Assets, Savings & Hope program, which trains undergrads to become volunteer income tax assistants.
But perhaps the most significant of all his extracurricular endeavors, he said, has been spent serving as president of Pride at McIntire. The organization had been dormant for three years before Clay revived the group, which focuses on guiding LGBTQ+ students interested in exploring careers in business while helping to promote acceptance and inclusion University-wide.
His work with Pride at McIntire reflects a trait he considers most important: Above all else, he said, he’s always unapologetically true to his authentic self.