Health and Medicine University

Graduating student ‘Drake-ful’ for opportunities

Destiny James recounts the life-changing challenges and obstacles she climbed to find her vocation at the University of Miami.
Destiny James on the Moss Patio.

Graduating senior Destiny James. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami



From a “small-town” girl to the big screen, Destiny Paris James—the graduating public health major who appeared in rapper Drake’s “God’s Plan” music video more than a year ago—plans to change lives. And she wants to start with her birthplace of Denmark, South Carolina.

Her own life changed in a major way when she received a call last spring asking her to appear in a video to promote the benefits of student scholarships. Instead, James was shocked to learn that she had been selected to meet the Grammy-winning Canadian superstar when he presented a $50,000 student scholarship to the University.

Since then, where ever James goes or is introduced to new people, she’s often referred to as “the girl from the Drake video.” She’s unbothered by it, though, and embraces being a role model. She saw her nieces and nephews watch the video for the first time “with a twinkle in their eye.”

“Where I’m from a lot of people don’t make it out,” James said, about her hometown of 3,400. “There’s not a lot of role models where I’m from. When I see them watching the video, I see so much light in their eyes. That’s such a good feeling.”

And a far cry from how James felt during her first two years at UM, when she faced “so many obstacles and so many ups and downs,” including with her major, biology. Although James graduated at the top of her high school class, she quickly discovered she was ill-prepared to tackle the “science on steroids” she encountered in her classes. As she notes, her small high school of roughly 240 students had limited resources and only met the bare minimum state requirements.

“I was so unprepared for all the stressors that came,” James said. “My confidence was shot.”

Then, three months into her first year, she received devastating news that her dad was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. Financial issues also arose as her mom, a single-parent, worked hard to cover tuition, work multiple jobs, and take care of home.

“If you would have told me my freshman year that I would be graduating from here today, I probably wouldn’t have believed it,” said James, who also is active in and secretary of Speak What You Feel, a poetry club, and Inspire U, a mentorship program.   

By the end of her second semester, her dad had passed away. His death motivated her to delve into cancer awareness projects—even creating one of her own called Live 2 Win. In the summer of 2016, in a single month’s time, she organized and hosted a 3K cancer awareness walk.

It was then that she knew that public health should be her vocation. But afraid to change her major, she stayed on the biology track for another year, “knowing it was not for me.” Then in spring 2017, she took a leap of faith and took her first public health class.

“Once I changed that major, everything started changing for me,” said James, who is now on the Dean’s List and the Provost Honor Roll. “I learned that you have to trust the process.”

James will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in public health and plans to pursue a master’s in public health, concentrating on health behavior promotion education, a focus prompted by the travails of her hometown. Currently, the residents of Denmark are experiencing a clean-water crisis, much like that of Flint, Michigan.

“That’s what’s pushing me. I’m meant to be doing this work,” she said. “Everything I went through was so worth it. Thanks to Drake, I’m probably stressing about classes and work, but I’m not stressing about tuition. I’m here to tell future ’Canes to not be afraid of change and trust the process.”