Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck is a Wisconsin-raised woman who hasn’t let her unusual name stop her. She’s now earned a doctorate, and she’s developed a successful and inspiring career in higher education and motivational speaking.
Marijuana Pepsi’s name has been the fodder of news headlines for years. However, she’s managed to turn her unusual name into a success story, not a joke. According to her website, Action as Empowerment, Marijuana Pepsi now holds workshops, retreats, and does coaching.
“A Beloit, WI native, Marijuana has a PhD in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Education, a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration, and a Bachelor’s degree in Education,” her website says. She works as a program director for Beloit College’s Student Excellence & Leadership Program. Sure enough, on the college’s website, she makes no attempt to alter her given name. It calls her “Marijuana (Sawyer) Vandyck, PhD.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Marijuana Pepsi Has Worked as a College Academic Adviser & Her Name Is On a Scholarship
Marijuana Pepsi once appeared on the Today Show to discuss her legal name. “Now there’s a name that stands out in a crowd,” the story said. “It makes it difficult sometimes.”
The Today Show reported that, at that time, she was also working as a college academic adviser. The television program’s video showcases a sign taped on the wall that directed students to “please have a seat here if you are waiting for Marijuana.” According to Today, Marijuana’s mother predicted that her name would take her places.
In 2009, an article by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Jim Stingl described Marijuana Pepsi as a “tall, striking, self-assured, motorcycle-riding woman” who once worked as a teacher. In 2019, Stingl updated his story to report that Marijuana Pepsi had earned her doctorate that year from Cardinal Stritch University in Wisconsin.
According to her website, Marijuana Pepsi’s name is now on a scholarship for first-generation African-American students in Wisconsin.
“A firm believer in giving back to others, the Marijuana Pepsi Scholarship is an annual award for a first generation African American student enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater pursuing the completion of a Bachelor or Masters Degree in the College of Education & Professional Studies- with priority given to students graduating from her alma mater, Beloit Memorial High School in Beloit, WI,” the website says.
2. Marijuana Vandyck Has Worked as a Real Estate Consultant
A website for Realtor.com reports that “Marijuana Vandyck” has also worked as a realtor.
The website says she has 16 years experience specializing in “distressed owners, listings, owner financing” and works for Brokerage Century 21 Affiliated. “Dr. Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck is the owner and founder of Action as Empowerment, LLC- a life strategy workshop, coaching and retreat business specializing in guiding committed clients towards outcome based results,” according to her website. “She has almost two decades of work experiences in urban school districts, university settings, life coaching, and real estate.”
In the past, she’s also been known as Marijuana Pepsi Jackson Sawyer and Marijuana Pepsi Jackson, but the first two names remained. According to her website, she’s married to husband Fredrick, has children, and “enjoys reading, camping, traveling” and spending time with her family. Heavy has reached out to Marijuana Pepsi for comment.
3. Marijuana Pepsi, Who Prefers Orange Soda, Tells Her Story as a Motivational Speaker
An achievements video from Video One Media Services reports that Marijuana Pepsi, then called Marijuana Pepsi Sawyer, has received multiple achievement awards over the years, including for an outstanding woman of color in education, and a woman of distinction award.
“She is a woman of many talents,” and she has overcome stereotype and judgments to succeed, the video says. She has over 10 years of experience in educational settings and is a speaker and coach, according to the video. She now tries to impart those lessons to young people.
The video quotes Andre Bennett, assistant principal for the School District of Janesville, as saying, “Marijuana was able to create opportunities…for students who may never have gotten that chance without her.” The video quotes a student as calling her a “point of inspiration.”
Stingl reported that Marijuana Pepsi prefers orange soda to Pepsi, though.
4. Her Father Tried to Overrule the Name but Her Mother Got Her Wish
According to Stingl, Marijuana Pepsi’s mother picked the unusual moniker over her father’s objections. Her aunt told Stingl that the parents “would cool off with a Pepsi…they were such fun-loving people that it suited them.”
Her mother predicted her name would take her places, according to Today. “I want to know what was it about me when you looked down into my face that went you look just like a Marijuana Pepsi,” Marijuana Pepsi told the program.
Her mother refused to let teachers use a nickname for her such as MJ or Mary Jane, according to Today. However, Marijuana Pepsi gave her own son a less unusual name, according to her Beloit College Bio: Isaac. And her dog is called Mya.
5. A Former Student Called Marijuana Pepsi a ‘Wonder Woman’ Who Is an ‘Outstanding Role Model’
According to her Beloit College bio, Marijuana Pepsi “completed her Bachelor’s degree in Education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, earned a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration from Georgia Southern University, and is a PhD candidate at Cardinal Stritch University studying Higher Education Leadership.” (As noted, she now has the PhD).
In her work, the bio reports, “Marijuana encourages students to overcome adversity, discover their strengths, and transform their lives.”
A graduate said of her, according to the biography: “Marijuana is fully dedicated to her work. She challenges her students and pushes them hard to make sure they are reaching and exceeding their full potential. She is an outstanding role model who relates very well to students. She is Wonder Woman!”