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Elizabeth's Story

“I grew up in the north end of Springfield, MA. We lived in a single-family house, and although I could say we were poor and struggled, my mother made sure we had food on the table, were clean, and had our space to do our homework. We were just like everyone else.

While my mother worked in the tobacco fields, I was the ‘mom’ to my brother and sister. It was natural for me to be planning activities for my siblings and the other kids in the neighborhood, like Halloween parties—even a bus trip to Misquamicut! Looking back, I think raising my brother and sister and doing all these activities was a foundation for my leadership.

After I graduated from the High School of Commerce in Springfield and I can honestly say I didn’t even think about going to college. Actually, I never could have imagined the trajectory my life would take. At 18, I moved to Boston and met a man from Saudi Arabia. Eventually, we got married and I moved to Saudi Arabia and our second son was born in that country. I know that experience of living in another country, and growing up in a bilingual household, really had a big impact on my perspective and I think that is why today I am so accepting and respectful of other cultures.

Things didn’t work out for us in Saudi Arabia, and I found myself a single mom living back in Springfield. I took a position as a paraprofessional at the Dubarry School. I loved working with the children! At one point Mrs. Jefferson, the principal, took me aside and said, ‘You have to go to college.’ I was scared. I didn’t even know the first step. Then my aunt said something to me that I always remembered, ‘Your grandfather didn’t come here in the 50s and 60s to work in the tobacco fields, and now you are going to turn down this opportunity to have a better life by going to college.’

With the help of Mrs. Jefferson, I applied and was accepted to Springfield College as a nontraditional student. I was given an advisor who was incredibly supportive, and he connected me with ARISE for Social Justice Program. I became a community activist. I loved my student experience. While going to college, I worked at Reeds Landing and the residents kept cheering me on. In life, I have been blessed by people who have believed in me. I couldn’t let them down. And that’s why I want to be that person who creates the same opportunities for our students.

One of my regrets is that my mother was that she was not here to see how my life had dramatically changed. She passed away at the age of 48. When I had my college graduation picture taken, I made sure that I had a photo of my mother in my hand and was also in the photograph because I knew she was there in spirit. She would have been so proud.”