It has taken half her life, but with determination and the guidance of Suffolk professors, Priscilla Williams has reached her goal of becoming a college graduate.
“Education is a quest that we embark on for life,” said the 34-year-old single mom who worked her way out of homelessness and to a college degree. “I am proof that it is never too late to fulfill your dreams.”
Her 17-year journey will bring her to an important milestone as she dons cap and gown to receive her Suffolk University undergraduate degree on May 22.
“This degree will symbolize victory, completion, and control over circumstances instead of being controlled by circumstances,” said Williams. “I’ve had to overcome many obstacles – internal, external, societal, and institutional – to get where I am today.”
Williams first entered Suffolk in September of 2000, two months after the birth of her daughter Aiyana. She was able to balance her life as a teen mother and full-time student off and on over the next few years before dropping out in January 2005.
Fast forward to September 2013, when after years of battling challenges that included periods of homelessness, Williams returned to Suffolk to continue her study of sociology.
A nurturing atmosphere
Rachael Cobb was one of many professors who helped ease her transition back into the classroom. The government professor created a one-credit independent study so that Williams could maintain her academic status.
Lori Rosenberg, her academic adviser helped Williams “to maintain balance as a mother, full-time professional and a student.”
And she praised Professor Donald Morton for his wisdom, perspective and commitment to initiating difficult conversations among students, which, Williams says, “will prepare me for the future.”
“I owe a lot of credit to the help and support I’ve received from my professors,” she said. ”There were times when I wasn’t sure how I was going to navigate everything that I’ve encountered to reach my goal, but Suffolk reinforced my commitment to succeed.”
Since returning to Suffolk. Williams has taken two to four courses each fall, spring, and summer, earning a grades of A or or A- in nearly every class.
“Priscilla was an extraordinary student who was more insightful about social problems than most of her peers,” said Morton. “Much of her insight can be attributed to her ability to apply the ‘sociological imagination’ to her own personal hardships through an analysis of broader societal issues.
“I loved her energy, her principles, and her determination to make a difference.”
Using knowledge to help others
Today Williams is making a difference through her role as housing specialist at Casa Myrna Vazquez, Inc., Boston’s largest provider of shelter and supportive services to survivors of domestic violence.
“What I learned as a sociology major has helped me become better in every aspect of my job,” she said. “Suffolk has helped me to sharpen all of the skills I need, from knowing the sociological terms to apply to everyday situations to understanding how institutions are impacting different demographics.”
Williams says that experiencing homelessness firsthand inspires her to work that much harder in helping her clients find a safe place to call home.
“The most rewarding part of my job is leveling the playing field for the underdog,” she said. “I know what it’s like to really struggle. That’s why it’s so fulfilling for me to improve the lives of others.”
Passing the torch
Williams hopes that what she has accomplished will set a good example for her daughter, who is now a high school sophomore.
“I feel that what I’ve accomplished shows my daughter the power of believing in one’s self and finishing something that is truly important to you,” she said.