Each student at Berea College has what we call his or her “Berea story.” They are stories of overcoming obstacles, accomplishment and ambition, and they represent the fulfillment of our unique mission. I like to tell these stories in May, as yet another graduating class completes their college journey. This year, I want to tell the story of Destiny, whose Berea story will be inspirational to the next generation of Bereans.
Destiny grew up in Honaker, Va., a town with only about 1,200 residents in a county where only about 10 percent of the population has attained a bachelor’s degree. Like many Appalachian counties, the community struggles with isolation, poverty and addiction. When she finished high school, Destiny was encouraged to marry and start a family rather than go to college, but she was destined for a different path. She traveled to Berea instead.
The first in her family to attend and, ultimately, finish college, Destiny’s educational journey was not a smooth one. She lost her brother in 2019 to opioids, the third family member to succumb to the scourge of addiction. That same year, Destiny describes herself as a “hot mess,” struggling with depression and feelings of insecurity that led her to consider leaving college after her sophomore year or transferring to a school closer to home.
She discovered instead a community of support that encouraged her to complete her Berea story. Because of this beloved community, she stayed and overcame, learning to love her unique, genuine and true self. Destiny decided to “show up,” which to her means adopting a growth mindset that promotes self-improvement with the ultimate goal of contributing back to her community. Berea College’s Entrepreneurship for the Public Good program was a perfect fit for that goal. Through that program she did an internship at the office of then-Virginia-delegate Tom Pillion, and then returned to Berea for her junior year determined to make the most of her college experience.
And that she did. The next summer, she interned as a black lung paralegal at Wolfe, Williams, and Reynolds in Norton, Va., and when Destiny returned her senior year, she was elected executive president of the Student Government Association. In her role as executive president, she has organized town halls to facilitate communication between students and the administration, and she has advocated for the LGBTQ+ community through organized events that promote equity and pride. In addition, she won the labor award for her work with College fundraisers.
Destiny, though suffering hardship, thrived at Berea College and now plans to take what she has learned back home so she can be part of the solution. The next leg of her journey takes this first-generation college student to the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., just a short drive from her hometown. With plans to advocate for criminal justice reform for drug offenses, the political science major wants to use her law degree to help addicts and families of addicts in court. But her ambition doesn’t end there! Destiny hopes to run for office one day to bring opportunity and change to her community.
Destiny’s story is a living embodiment of the mission of Berea College. By giving access to education and by building a community of support, students with grit and determination can realize their hopes and dreams. Each is living out a unique Berea story, and these stories are why we continue to do the work we do.