Marijuana Pepsi’s mother was judged and thought to be mean for giving her daughter such an odd name. After 46 years, Marijuana Pepsi, who proudly embraced her unique name, is going places as her mother had envisaged the name would take her to.
The Beloit woman, named after a psychoactive weed and a popular soft drink, has made it through childhood, college and graduate school and has become a college counsellor.
Last month, she graduated from Wisconsin’s Cardinal Stritch University with a PhD in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education.
“Vandyck” was added to her name after she married her current husband Fredrick in 2017. She now lives on a farm in Pecatonica, Illinois, with her husband and four children.
Apart from teaching in Beloit and operating a performance coaching company, Marijuana has started an annual scholarship award for African-American students enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a report by Journal Sentinel said.
For someone who used to question her mother for giving her such a name, Marijuana is now grateful to her for helping her to be the strong and entrepreneurial woman she is today.
But this did not come without challenges. Growing up between Chicago, Illinois, and Beloit, Marijuana said she was constantly teased in class because of her unique name, especially when teachers conducted a roll call.
“Every single class, the teacher is taking attendance out loud, and as they slowly get down through the J’s, I’m just like here it comes. ‘Marianna? Marijuana?’ And all the students turn to see who it is,” she said.
She told Journal Sentinel that some later suggested she go to court and change her name while others refused to call her Marijuana but Mary, which she rejected.
Marijuana, however, took advantage of these situations and selected as her dissertation topic: “Black names in white classrooms: Teacher behaviours and student perceptions.”
According to Journal Sentinel, she interviewed black students at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where she received her bachelor’s degree, about the effect of their unique black names on their treatment by teachers and on their academic performance.
She discovered that most of the students went through similar situations as hers: teachers would pause while mentioning their names in the class and would begin to question them about it in the presence of everyone in the class.
Marijuana currently works full-time at Beloit College, a liberal arts college in Wisconsin. She introduces herself as Dr Marijuana Pepsi when she enters classrooms, and this makes it easy to get the attention of everyone, she said.
She has also never smoked marijuana and doesn’t drink Pepsi, despite her name. She is also yet to meet someone with her unique name.
While there is a growing acceptance for the use of marijuana, this is what the 46-year-old mom and businesswoman said when asked about her view on legalization:
“My main concern are the individuals serving time for marijuana-related offenses. I would like to see all their sentences overturned. These people were locked up for making money from the sale of marijuana, and now that the government has figured out ways to make the money themselves, it is ‘legal’ and, further, encouraged.”