Elexcia Ellison never imagined being able to do anything.
Growing up, Ellison admitted she felt like her life was “pointless.” She also didn’t know if she would live past 20 years old.
“I just couldn’t think of my life as growing up, getting married, having kids, getting old,” Ellison said.
Now, the Walnut Creek, California, native has a different outlook and a new path after three years at the Mississippi University for Women.
This week, Ellison is set to earn a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. She also will receive a Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) Certificate. Ellison then will move on to the University of Virginia, where she will pursue a master’s of art degree in English as a Second Language. She hopes to complete those studies next May.
“Going from Chattahoochee Valley Community College (where she studied nursing) to a small school helped me so much,” Ellison said. “The big schools are so intimidating, and The W is the perfect place to earn a degree without getting lost or being filed away. Because of this, I've slowly been able to strengthen my self-esteem and realize I can actually receive my degree. Still shocked I did so.”
Ellison moved from California to Fort Benning, Georgia, at the end of her junior year of high school. She worked as a nursing assistant before she changed her major to English. She admits the transition might have been surprising because she hated to read for the longest time. But Ellison credits Lisa Rigisich, an English teacher she had in her sophomore year of high school, for helping her have an epiphany. The teacher helped her with family problems and made her classroom the safest place in the world.
Ellison said the novel “The Lord of the Flies” also sparked an interest in English. She said it was refreshing to inspect every inch of the novel, for the students to discuss their thoughts about the story and to accept different points of view.
Ellison’s awakening continued at The W when she took her first TESL class and in an African-American literature class. She recalled troubling stereotypical thoughts she had growing up in California that she then realized were unfounded. Ellison also credits the African-American literature class for helping her to see the inequities in the educational system in the United States.
“I realized that not even some citizens of the United States could educate themselves because of the hate they received,” Ellison said. “I was appalled. I realized that instead of just complaining about it, I should do something to help. That is when I decided to be an English teacher to immigrants and to focus on improving the education system in the United States.”
Ellison said there are so many people who have helped her to get to this point. She credits Thomas Kris Lee, an assistant professor for English/creative writing, for opening her eyes to how much she loves play writing. In the spring of 2019, Ellison’s play, which was an adaptation of the movie “Would You Rather,” was chosen to be read by the drama department. She also praised the work of Dr. Kendall Dunkelberg, who was her adviser for the last half of her education; Dr. Bridget Smith Pieschel, who was her first adviser; Dr. Amy Pardo, her African-American literature professor; and professor Todd Bunnell, her TESL professor, and thanked them for their inspiration and support.
She hopes to become as big a cheerleader for her students as her professors have been for her. Ellison said she never imagined she or anyone could love English as much as she did at the beginning of her degree. Now at the end of one leg of her journey and poised to begin another, she is ready to dive even deeper into the depths of literature.
“I’ve developed a love and fighting attitude toward everyone receiving an adequate education,” Ellison said. “It was mostly in my African-American literature class that I realized I had a strong passion for equalizing the education in the United States. Just because someone is born in an impoverished community does not mean they deserve a lesser education. Every child deserves to be in a school that allows free-thinking and expression while being taught reliably.
“Knowing that my desires for change cannot be achieved unless at a high level, my ultimate goal is to be the Secretary of Education. Realizing this goal has pushed me to work hard in school, to push through negative situations I had put myself in, and to strive to live a life worthy of that office.”
Don’t think for a minute that Ellison won’t be able to accomplish her goal of becoming Secretary of Education. Her time at The W has helped her see anything is possible, even for her.
“Life is too short to wait for the ‘right’ time,” Ellison said. “If you want to take that 6 p.m. ceramics art class but it doesn't go with your degree, who cares? Take it anyway. Sign up for something you normally wouldn't do or that makes you uncomfortable. Growth doesn't happen when you are comfortable. Ask that girl out, dye your hair blue, wear those hippie pant, and never be ashamed of who you are. You will be a million different people before you die because we are always growing, developing and improving. Don't be the same person you were yesterday, and leave those behind who try and slow you down.”