A Milwaukee woman refused to let her unusual name, or the bullies who picked on her over it, get in the way of her reaching her dreams.
Now, she’s hotter by one degree — a doctorate degree, specifically.
Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck has proudly embraced the name her mother gifted her 46 years ago, despite criticism from others who cringed at the unique mashup, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Vandyck balked at the pleas from friends and colleagues who urged her to change her name, in a bid to prove her haters wrong.
“People make such a big deal out of it,” she told the newspaper. “I couldn’t get away from it.”
Last month, the wife and mother of one officially became Dr. Marijuana Pepsi after graduating with a Ph.D. in higher education leadership from Cardinal Stritch University in Wisconsin. Her name served as inspiration for her dissertation, entitled “Black Names In White Classrooms: Teacher Behaviors and Student Perceptions.”
Vandyke said Black students she talked with for her undergraduate thesis shared similar stories of being teased by classmates over their names, an experience she knows all too well. Then there was the dreaded “pause” before the teacher landed on her name during roll call and then quizzing her on it in front of the entire class.
“I’m sorry,” Vandyck recalled telling a professor who did that to her at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where she earner her bachelor’s. “You didn’t ask anyone else that. Why are you asking me? My name is Marijuana, thank you.”
Vandyck, a full-time programs director at Beloit College in Wisconsin, told the Journal Sentinel that her mother, Maggie Johnson, chose her name and predicted it would take her all “around the world.” Her siblings, Robin and Kimberly, were given more conventional names.
Though people shamed her mom for the name choice, Vandyck, 46, said she credits her parent with helping her become the fearless, driven, entrepreneurial woman she is today.
“I’ve grown into my name because I am a strong woman,” said Vandyck, who owns a performance coaching business called Action as Empowerment. “I’ve had to be.”
The Wisconsin woman left an unstable home at age 15, graduated high school and went on to earn her bachelor’s and masters degrees. She had already set her sights on a doctorate early on, according to the newspaper.
“I’m going to be called Dr. Marijuana Pepsi!” she declared her freshman year in undergrad.
By embracing her name, the now-doctor said she’s proved to herself and others that they can overcome any obstacles in life. Vandyck now hopes to share her success with the launch of the Marijuana Pepsi Scholarship, which would give $500 each year to a deserving first-generation Black student enrolled at UW-Whitewater, according to the Journal-Sentinel.
So far, Vandyck said she has yet to meet anyone with her name but would like to. Though her name suggests otherwise, the newly hooded doctor said she has never smoked weed and rarely drinks soda.