COLUMBIA, SC (courtesy allenuniversity.edu) — Allen University graduating senior Michelle Hill knows all too well about fighting. As a young girl growing up in Detroit, Michigan, the biology major says she had many physical confrontations in school.
“I used to get in trouble a lot because I would get in fights at school,” said Hill, who claimed that the Motor City was often a tough environment.
When her father, who lived nearly 600 miles away in Atlanta, Georgia, offered her the opportunity to live with him, Hill took a chance on herself and left Michigan.
“I knew I had to do something differently if I wanted a better life,” Hill said.
Hill says she flourished in Atlanta, joining several clubs and even played on her high school’s basketball team. When it was time for her to select a college, Allen University would become her first choice. She visited the campus during the university’s Open House.
“When I came to Open House, everybody seemed friendly. The campus had a family-like environment, and I loved that,” said Hill.
The nurturing and caring environment that Hill experienced that day, would prove to be essential to completing her college degree. She would have to fight – again, but not with her peers. Hill’s battle was with herself.
“When I first came to college, I was very shy, and I had low self-esteem. I hid my true self from my classmates and, truthfully, from myself,” said Hill.
While going to her classes and enjoying college life, Hill took notice of the diversity that existed around her. She recognized the diversity in the students, who represented various backgrounds and cultures. She took note of how her peers expressed themselves, whether through the style of their hair, how they rocked the latest fashion or used their voices to speak their truth.
“I began to let my guard down and come into my own person,” said Hill.
As she continued on the journey of self-discovery, Hill said a slight push from oral language professor, Dr. Lillian G. Reeves, helped her to find her own voice.
“She made me speak – give presentations – in front of my classmates,” said Hill, who remembered resisting Reeves’ nudges.
“She pushed me forward, and I’m grateful for the encouragement,” she said.
As Hill became more open to new experiences, she gained interest in becoming involved on campus. She joined the Allen University Pre-Alumni Council, worked as a residential assistance, and joined Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated. She was also recognized as an Environmental Justice Scholar, an opportunity that Hill said was one of her most memorable experiences.
“It was just a great opportunity. We learned so many valuable skills, like grant writing, how to develop as a leader, but more importantly, we learned about the impact of environmental injustices in many of the country’s underserved communities.”
“What was more of an eyeopener,” continued Hill, “was hearing from my very own friends how environmental biases affected them and their families.”
Hill is excited about graduating from Allen and receiving her degree in biology. Upon graduation, she will return to Atlanta where she will teach biology at Jackson Elementary School.
But as she considers her future, Hill recalls a moment while at Allen that likely would not have led her to walking across the stage, when Allen University will award bachelor degrees at the spring 2019 Commencement Ceremony. The event will take place 10 a.m. Saturday, May 11 in Chappelle Auditorium.
“I wanted to give up. I contemplated sitting out for one semester,” said Hill, who said school had become too difficult for her.
As she wrestled with what she wanted to do, Hill said she thought about her life in Detroit, and where she would have likely been had she not made the choice to move to Atlanta just a few years ago.
“Had I remained in Detroit, I might have been working a dead-end job, associating myself with those who might not have had my best interests at heart, or pregnant with a child. That wasn’t the life I wanted, so I knew I needed to continue to fight for what I wanted – for the life I wanted for myself,” said Hill.
So, she decided to continue her studies at Allen.
“It was well worth it,” she said.