With a Lenoir Community College diploma in hand, graduate Michelle Denise Campbell of Kinston is heading to East Carolina University to follow her dreams of becoming an attorney. The road has been rocky at times, but she will tell you that there have been people along the way who have encouraged her and assisted her in her quest.
The first in her family to graduate from high school and from college, the 26-year-old is ready for the next phase of her life. A single mother of a five-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son, Campbell said she has “lived in the projects” her whole life. “LCC gave me a way to get my family out,” she said.
Graduating with an Associate degree in English, she plans to major in English and Hispanic Studies and hopes to attend law school. “My children motivate me,” she said. “I grew up in Simon Bright Apartments. I moved to Greenville (for a while) and then moved back (to Kinston) to build a relationship with my mother.”
Memories of growing up bring heartache as well as joy. She didn’t meet her father until she was 23. She grew up with a brother, but discovered she had seven more siblings after meeting her father. “I was told as a child that he (my father) didn’t want to have anything to do with me. When I met him, I realized there was no way he didn’t want to be there for me when I was growing up. We have a great relationship.”
Campbell said she chose English because she loves to write and loves to read. “I write poetry too. I love writing papers,” she said.
Her world expanded when she attended a program on Hispanic Studies at ECU with LCC instructor and mentor, Sarah Tyson. “I went to the program and loved it. After talking with an instructor, I found out I could study abroad with my children and then I can do an internship as part of my program.”
Excited about the opportunity to continue her studies, Campbell said she did not have a fear of going to college. “I graduated from Kinston High School in 2005. It was five years later before I enrolled at LCC. I had no fear of education,” she said. “I had a fear of myself. I didn’t want to let myself down. I didn’t want to start and quit,” she said. “I’m not a quitter.
“Finances were my biggest challenge when considering going to college,” she said. “While at LCC I worked as a technical assistant in the tutorial lab.”
She said didn’t always want to be a lawyer. “I thought I was going into medicine even at five-years-old,” she laughed. “At that age I cut my cousin’s knee open and sewed it back up because I was playing doctor. The doctor told my mom if I hadn’t sewed him up, he would have bled to death.”
Campbell changed career paths while at LCC. She said she met a student who was visibly upset and when she inquired about his problem, he told her of the trouble he was in with the law. She said based on what he told her, she gave him advice to share with his attorney, which he did. “I saw him later and he thanked me for the help. I decided then I wanted to be a lawyer and help people.”
Being at LCC has put great mentors in Campbell’s life. “Besides Mrs. Tyson, Dr. (Evelyn) Kelly and Mr. (Kevin) Parker have been so helpful. I think you have to make the effort to initiate a relationship with instructors,” she said, “and I did.”
Campus police Ricky Cannon has also played an important role in Campbell’s life. “He has been like a father to me,” she said. “I met him through his church, Majestic Deliverance Temple. He has been there for me. He pushed me to have a relationship with my father. He has encouraged me and got on me when I needed it. My aunt has also been a major part of me continuing my education,” she said. “She keeps my children and encourages me.”
Campbell said she has learned that a person can do anything they want to. “No one can tell you that you can’t. You can go against the odds. I am doing what the politics said I can’t do. I made it through,” she said. “I tell others to put your mind to it. (Having) children do not stop you from dreaming. I didn’t want to tell my child to do something I didn’t do.
“LCC is a great place to start,” she said. “Resources are great and the faculty, staff and the deans are too. My goal after I become a lawyer is to come back to the community. I want to build centers to keep children off of the streets. I want to work to change social services. I want to provide opportunities. Maybe offer classes where minorities can learn about their rights.”
Her mind racing with all the opportunities available, Campbell said plans to become a criminal lawyer and maybe study family law. Her options are endless, she said. “I want to keep learning.”