Voices of Trinity: 2019 Graduates Tell Their Stories

Voices of Trinity: 2019 Graduates Tell Their Stories

Another marvelous group of Trinity students will become Trinity alumnae and alumni at the Commencement ceremony on May 18.  These are just some of the stories of hard work, persistence, courage and triumph in the Class of 2019:

Shanice Cephas, B.A. in English, CAS

Shanice CephasEntering Trinity after not doing emotionally or academically well at Temple University for a year, I would not have thought I would be graduating in May. I would not have thought I would make the Dean’s list for each of my semesters at Trinity…        I would not have thought I would meet brilliant professors that enjoy learning from me as much as I enjoy learning from them, after meeting professors “too busy” to help me after classes. I would not had been able to fathom that I would be graduating “magna cum laude” after believing my previous academic failure would follow me forever. I would not have imagined any of it but Trinity, among many other things, has turned me into a believer.

My four years at Trinity have transformed my life. Trinity has sculpted me into someone I am proud of; someone my family can boast about; someone my professors have consistently put faith into; someone who will embark on the world fearlessly. This is not to say Temple University could not have done so or that their university is not one of prestige. But for me, Trinity Washington University, like the twinkling star in the sky after the darkness, aligned in my life right when I needed it the most. Trinity creates an environment where you not only feel safe in your academic exploration but safe in the sisterhood they have strengthened through generations. It is the sisterhood of Trinity that has lifted me up after facing financial struggles and life-altering death. It is Trinity’s motivation towards academic discovery that has helped me to become one of the few students to receive the CAS Mellon Foundation Summer Research Award and lead a panel during Trinity’s 2019 Symposium on Sexual Violence.

Additionally, because Trinity’s sisterhood and their push towards academic endeavors are inextricable, I became one of 12 Trinity students receiving their Study Abroad Grants for summer study in Paris. So, as I board the plane to Paris with my Trinity sisters after graduation, I know I could not have dreamed of this success. Now I can. Now I know my success will only continue as I enter graduate school because, among the many tools I have received, Trinity has also given me the strength to believe nothing is impossible.

Allison Barrera Rivera, B.A. in Business Administration, CAS

Allison Barrera RiveraAbout four years ago I was a senior in high school. Although very excited to graduate I was also very unsure of my next step. Education is of great significance in my family, naturally I aspired to obtain a college education. Unlike my high school friends, I wasn’t applying to multiple colleges to see if I got accepted or denied because getting accepted or denied wasn’t my main concern. My main concern was figuring out a financial plan to pay for school. Although I knew my parents would support me in any way possible I did not want to give them that burden.

Acknowledging my aspiration to continue my education I began to search for scholarships that could help me resolve my financial needs. After reading numerous scholarship requirements I finally realize that various scholarships were not designed for me. It wasn’t my GPA or my ACT/SAT scores that prevented me from being able to apply for these scholarships, it was my immigration status. My immigration status in the U.S had never affect me as much as it did in those moments. I was aware of my inability to receive any financial support from the government, but I did not know many scholarships were out of my reach because of my status. Throughout my years of living in the U.S, I had never felt so unwelcomed. I felt hopeless, my dreams of furthering my education seemed more and more unachievable.

Allison Barrera RiveraEven though my spirits were low I never gave up on myself. As I realized the weight my status held I began searching for scholarships differently. Instead of searching for just any scholarships, I focused on those created for students like me, dreamers. It only took one search to discover TheDream.US and it only took me a few minutes on their website to realize this scholarship was created for me. TheDream.US made it possible for me to attend college without any financial worries and never ending support. Till this day it all feels like a dream. Not only am I beyond grateful for TheDream.US and everything it has done for me but I am forever thankful for putting me on the path towards Trinity Washington University. Trinity Washington University introduced me to a community of woman just like me, I was fortunate enough to attend a university that welcomed and embraced dreamers.

My journey here at Trinity has been amazing. Even before starting school I was honored to represent Trinity at the White House’s 2015 Beating the Odds Summit, hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama, on Thursday, July 23, 2015, needless to say my time here at Trinity has been a blessing from the very beginning.

Allison Barrera RiveraAs my journey comes to an end I am now able to enjoy the fruits of my hard work and dedication. On April 16th, 2019 I had the privilege of being inducted to Phi Beta Kappa’s prestigious honor society, which recognizes and honors exceptional academic achievement. A great joy I got to share with my family and friends.  After four years as a student athlete, two years as the captain of our Trinity’s softball team, I was honored to accept the 2019 MVP award and blessed to have received a distinguished award given to one upperclassman student-athlete from Trinity’s athletic department, the Exceptional Tiger Award.  These four years have been rewarding in itself, the most valuable gift Trinity has given me is the voice of an empowered woman ready to concur the world. To conclude this amazing chapter in my life I will received my last award May 18th. An award that signifies my ability to overcome the obstacles put in my life. An award that will bring pride and joy to my family’s never-ending sacrifices. An award that will motivate generations behind me. An award that will mark my family’s history as I am the first to receive it. This award will be my college degree that seemed impossible to me four years ago.

My name is Allison Barrera and I share my story as a testimony to prove the impossible is possible, never give up on yourself.

Fidelia Perez, B.A. in Community Education, CAS

Fidelia PerezMy name is Fidelia Perez, majoring with a bachelor’s degree in Community Education. I initiated my dream career at Trinity Washington University in August of 2014.

I am part of the first cohort of dreamers accepted into TheDream.Us scholarship. Without the financial support of the sponsors, my dream to attend college wouldn’t have been possible.

I am the first member of my family to attend college, and despite all the obstacles I’ve faced, my persistence in getting a higher education has become true. I am forever grateful for the support that I have received from many fabulous and dedicated faculty members from Trinity Washington University. They have been supporting me in various ways, not just academic but beyond and above as a united community. Trinity Washington University became my second home where I felt welcomed, and unafraid to express my successes and failures.

Of course, outside of school, my husband and six children have been the pillars throughout those five years to achieve my academic goal.

Markerra Rinfrow, B.S. in Business Administration, SPS

Markerra Rinfrow(Markerra started in the School of Professional Studies in January 2016)

Coming here was a huge transition for me. I’ve never taken night classes before, let alone stayed in a class for 4 hours straight. The transition taught me how to stay motivated and how to be patient with new things. I appreciate every single person at Trinity that has helped me with financial aid, or helped me with a link in the library, and more importantly my professors that have taught me so much for the past 3 years.

I feel like my proudest moment at Trinity was making the Dean’s List. I was so overwhelmed with joy because school is not easy and for me to receive that honor was a huge deal for me. All in all I’m ecstatic about completing my bachelors of science degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting at Trinity Washington University and I can not wait to see what’s in store in my continuous improvement journey.

Congratulations, Markerra!


Yessenia Torres, B.A. in International Affairs, CAS

Yessenia TorresI started my academic journey at Trinity Washington University in August of 2015 immediately after high school. My parents never went past first grade in El Salvador and for me to come to college and now graduate is a blessing to me and I thank God for this privilege. I hope to always make my parents proud and help them as they  did everything for me by sacrificing their lives and coming to this country. My first semester here I made the deans list and was proud of myself but I was not sure if I wanted to major in nursing. My sophomore year at Trinity I started becoming involved at Trinity, I was a Peer Advisor for the first time at Orientation in 2016. Then, I was the vice-President of the commuter student council, I went to Selma Alternative Spring break trip in 2017. I was Peer Advisor for three years and also worked during Reunion student weekend in 2018 and also in 2019. I also participated in the Washington Model Organization of American States 2019 and represented Honduras with my fellow classmates. It was an amazing experience to be able to meet new students from all over the Americas and gain more knowledge about diplomacy. My time at Trinity Washington was amazing with God’s help and all my Trinity sisters, professors, and staff help it would not have been possible.  I managed to make the deans list 3 times. I worked in the nights, and slept 3-5 hours everyday but I made it! With hard work and determination. Trinity has changed me so much because now I am not shy as I was when I first came to Trinity and I am now more confident! I plan to get a paralegal certificate and a masters in Latin Americans studies and later on I want to work also in the foreign policy area.

Tanesha Burress, B.A. in Human Relations, SPS

Tanesha Burress

I began my journey at Trinity in 2014. At that time I was battling family hardships as well as tackling life as a young single mother. I was trilled to find out that Trinity offered the option for me to pursue my degree in the afternoons and weekends, so that I could still work and provide for my daughter. I went to work during the day and came to Trinity at night. The professors and my fellow classmates made my journey so enjoyable. I loved the small class sizes and the “family-like” dynamic that was present in almost all of my classes here at Trinity. Though the journey was not easy, God provided me with everything I needed to complete my degree. For as long as I could remember, I’ve had dreams of becoming a teacher. While obtaining my degree at Trinity I worked as an assistant teacher and upon my completion, I will teach children in Washington DC. I am a firm believer that anything you put your mind to you can accomplish. I am grateful for my professors at Trinity, my classmates who have truly become my Trinity Sisters, my mother, my brother, and daughter, who all supported me and encouraged me to complete this goal. In May 2019 I will be the first person in my family to obtain a college degree and I will be a positive example for my daughter and all of the children I teach, to never give up on your dreams!

Simone Johnson, B.A. in General Studies, SPS

My higher education journey began when Trinity Washington University was a women’s college and I was a young widow with three children. I spent time building a career and family but received a scholarship from National Child Institute in 2015 until 2017, which helped me to acquire my Associate degree in Early Childhood Education then went on the complete my Bachelor degree in General Studies on May 18, 2019.  2017 to 2019 my life changed by the following reasons: four surgeries, currently in physical therapy, my position written out of the staffing pattern, therefore losing my scholarship which connected to that employer, so I decided to complete my BA while recovering full-time. I had to become creative to survive on a long term disability situation, but Trinity’s Enrollment Department helped me navigate funds and other things to be successful. School became part of my healing process through social interaction with other students and mental wellness care. I only missed two classes during all my surgeries but came to school on heavy medication and pain at times. My classmates were very considerate and  my professors  understood that I was determined not to put this degree on hold. .As I was being cleared for graduation, I was offered  a part-time Resident Services Coordinator for a real-estate company and a part-time instructor at the University of The District Community College. This will begin my journey back the workforce and applying for graduate school at Trinity.

Gizelle Taylor-Daniels, A.A. in General Studies, SPS

Gizelle Taylor-DanielHello! My name is Gizelle Taylor-Daniels. My experience as a student has been a Nordstrom Experience!! Being a non-traditional student has been an experience that I have enjoyed and one that I do not regret. Returning to school was such a huge desire of mine. However, I was afraid of the amount of time that had lapsed since I graduated from high school. I was also not sure I would be able to earn good grades and achieve academic success. Once classes started, I learned that I was both capable of being a productive student and well able to achieve my goal of making the Dean’s List!  I felt a sense of great accomplishment at the end of each semester. Gaining new knowledge and learning new skills that relate to my current field of work has increased my confidence.

Every one of the professors at Trinity Washington University have been very professional and have made me realize I am never too old to attend college. The uncertainty and anxieties I felt about attending college at my current age were emotional. However, the professors made my experience sweet.  This was a great relief. The diversity of the students, to include race, ethnicity, and age, has enabled me to develop a greater appreciation of the diversity I experience in the workforce.

Things became more challenging as I go closer to the end of my program. I had to study much harder but, with prayer, faith, and plain old perseverance, I was able to overcome the challenges. Attending college has given me the opportunity to express myself and to believe in myself. I have become more knowledgeable in my field. I want to encourage my sons and my grandchildren to attend college and to overcome obstacles in life. In fact, I will encourage everyone to attend college and not allow age to become a barrier to achieving the goal of higher education.

I decided to begin college with my friend and coworker, LaDonya McClure, with the support of Dean Beverly Lucas. LaDonya and I took this journey together and together we will walk across the stage to receive our first degree. LaDonya and I both have been accepted for the BA program in SPS and, together again, we will take our next journey!! As a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister to many, and friend to all, I would like to say THANK YOU ALL!!!!! Now let us all celebrate, fellowship together, and enjoy one another. I only have three months of freedom before I start my next journey.

Dayna Hood, B.A. Journalism and Media Studies, SPS

Dayna Hood

My Trinity Washington University journey began in the Fall of 2016, and I have truly Discovered My Strength on this campus. I came to Trinity as a professional makeup artist, and this May I am leaving as the first student to graduate from the Journalism and Media Studies Program in for the School of Professional Studies. 

The path to the finish line was not easy—but it was filled with new experiences and an abundance of blessings. In the past three years, I founded #IAMTRINITY, I was selected as a 2018 Frank Karel Fellow, I published my own magazine, and made many lifelong connections along the way. No matter what, I knew my Trinity family had my back. I believed that no matter how rough things got, I was surrounded by a network of dynamic women who would remind me why I started in the first place. 

Dayna Hood

Beginning this May, I will begin my next venture as a Teaching Resident for East Harlem Tutorial Program. I will simultaneously be earning my M,Ed. in Childhood Education from Hunter College. East Harlem Tutorial Program has a beautiful anti-racist mission which very closely mirrors my own. With East Harlem being over 80% Black and Latinx, our curriculum prepares us to truly connect with and inspire our students in a very special way. This is one of those blessings I mentioned—the opportunity to positively influence a community so rich in culture is truly an honor. 

I couldn’t be more excited to re-enter the workforce as an educator, especially after having such amazing professors at Trinity to serve as shining examples. I look forward to seeing the Journalism and Media Studies program evolve over the years. I know every graduate who comes behind me will be just as prepared for greatness as I am. Remember your strength, and never stop moving forward. Now let’s make magic!”

Melissa T. Dunn, B.A. in Community Education, CAS

Melissa T. DunnI moved to the D.C. area in 2015 after living in Texas my whole life to follow my husband’s dream job. Like many others, I have experienced suffering and loss throughout my life. After almost 11 years since I enrolled in my first college course, I can finally say “I DID IT!” There aren’t enough words to describe what this journey has meant to me and the people who have walked alongside me. I cried, I complained (boy did I complain), but most importantly, I continued. Truth be told, I don’t like school. I love learning, but the work that goes with it and the anxiety that it brings is gut wrenching. For as long as I can remember, I have always struggled academically. Five years ago if you told me I was going to graduate from college I wouldn’t have believed you. I was content with my job and not planning on going back to school. Ultimately, it came down to me not believing in myself. Everyone else did, except me. Trinity has opened my eyes and heart to a world of possibilities, even to those who struggle along the way. The amount of tutoring, studying twice as hard than everyone else, and the effort of just trying—made it all worth it. My mom always reminded me how important education was because she didn’t have the same opportunities growing up in Vietnam. She is no longer here on earth, but this one’s for you, mom. With that said, I’ll be the first to graduate college in my family. To say I’m proud is an understatement. I have no idea what’s in store for me, but I know it’s going to be something great. I have my family and friends to thank, but especially my biggest cheerleader—my husband. For all the support, encouragement and hugs….thank YOU. Thank you everyone for celebrating my accomplishments with me!

Ellen Drakes, B.A. in Human Relation, Minor in Religion CAS

Ellen DrakesMy college journey began in spring of 1989 at PGCC, in Maryland. My oldest sister who was living in the Washington DC area encouraged me to relocate to Maryland. I had been living at home in St. Thomas Virgin Islands helping my dad after my mom’s passing. I decided the take my sister up on the offer to relocate and register for college to accomplish my long awaited dream to attain a college education. While I was at home, I worked and saved some money to pay for school. The money I saved covered the first semester without any problems, but I realized very quickly I did not have money for the next semester, so I was only able to attend PGCC for one semester.

Following that semester, I worked for some time at the mall, never giving up hope, that one day I would receive my degree. However, I realized working at the mall was not getting me to my goal fast enough. I decided if I enlisted in the military I would be able to get financial help through the GI Bill. So off I went to boot camp! It was exciting, fulfilling and adventurous, but a couple weeks before I graduated from boot camp, I got ill and received an honorable discharge. My unit graduated without me and a week later they were shipped off to fight in the Gulf War. It’s sad to say most of them did not make it back alive.

I started working, living and trying to save to pay for my education because I knew that one day it would happen. In 1999, I became pregnant, but I was very ill during my pregnancy; I could not work anymore, and I had to use the money I had saved for college to pay bills. I was nearly homeless and my car was about to be repossessed. When my son was born, he had a respiratory condition called tracheomalacia, which required surgery when he was less than a day old. I could no longer work outside of my home because my son had medical appointments at least three time a week. Caring for him and his condition, as a single parent was very demanding. When my son turned two years old, I began homeschooling him and continued until he was ten years old. Around that time, I was getting ready to transition him into private school so I could go back to school. Again, I put my plans on hold because I had to go to the Virgin Islands to get my dad, whose health was failing.

Ellen DrakesWhen I brought my dad to live with me, my college degree plan was pushed further away, but I never gave up hope. Between taking him to all of his appointments, homeschooling my son and taking my son to his medical appointment, I did not have time to go to school. Three years after my dad came to live with me, his health stabilized and my son was in school so I decided to enroll at Montgomery College in 2011. Soon, I found out about Trinity Washington University from my aunt Wilma Drakes who received her counseling degree from the School of Professional Studies. When she brought me here and gave me a personal tour, I truly felt a sense of belonging. I registered and transferred from Montgomery College in 2014, but my dad’s health started to fail so I had to delay college again. I needed a full-time caretaker to cover for me on the days I was in school. After setting that up, I started Trinity in the fall of 2015. It was not easy managing so many roles: going to school full time, taking care of my dad, seeing dementia rob him of life, being a full-time single parent, attending PTA meetings, sporting events, studying and making the Dean’s lists. I looked forward to coming to school every day, even when I had to take naps in my car between classes, because I was so tired. I love school; Trinity is my second home and I love everyone I have met here.

On my journey along the way, I have lost some of my biggest cheerleaders. My dad, my sister, my brother and my nephew all died. I know if they were here, they would be so proud to celebrate this day with me. I would like to encourage anyone who wants to go back to school; never give up on your dream. If you believe it, you can achieve it. Thank you Trinity for helping me to discover my strength. I am now part of the Sisters of Notre Dame Mission and family. I am proud to say thirty years after beginning my journey in 1989 I will receive my college degree on May 18, 2019. It is not how you begin, but it is that you finish!!!

Lisa Maria Whitehead, A.A in General Studies, SPS

Lisa Maria WhiteheadLike many of us, I started college in the Fall after graduating from high school.  Soon after, “life happened,” and I became a wife and mother which left no time for studying and pursuing a degree. Still, I never lost the hope of returning to school and fulfilling my dream of earning a college degree; so I picked up the pieces and tried it again and again and again.  Fast forward to many years later, and a “much older me,” I enrolled at Trinity… taking only one class, initially, to see if I was truly ready to begin again.  To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed it, learned a lot of valuable tools, and received an A in the class. This inspired me to go a little deeper and so I did.  While it was not an easy undertaking; having to balance a full-time work schedule, family, personal life activities, and school work… many times I wanted to quit!  However, with my wonderful support system… that being my children and sisters; who spoke positive words of encouragement and cheered me on along the way, as well as my fellow classmates… in which we developed a bond to keep each other motivated and enthused… I got through it!  Each semester, I met greater challenges as the classes seemingly became more difficult, but I was determined to not allow any obstacles to stop me from reaching my goal.  I pushed through with great force and earned excellent grades.  Today, at age 57, I can say that I am very proud of myself and my accomplishment of achieving an Associate’s degree in General Studies from the School of Professional Studies.

Jamie Thomas, M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, EDU

Jamie Thomas

When I started Trinity in 2012, I was fully committed to finishing my degree in order to obtain a position that paid more money in the field I was currently working. And then life happened for me; I became engaged one year into the program and shortly after we got married, I found out I was expecting my first son. I had him 4 months earlier than his due date and sadly he did not make it. It was not until I lost my son when I realized what my purpose was in the Master’s program. I became transparent about my grief journey and wanted to help others find some peace on their journeys’ of grief.  I became pregnant two more times and now I have one son, who just turned two.

These experiences happened in the midst of my Master’s program. It was such a critical time for me personally and professionally but I remained faithful through it all. I took time off to grieve and process the loss of my first son. I needed that time to rebuild myself and relationship with God. But, I knew I had to finish the program so that I could go on to help counsel individuals who have experienced infant loss. Without the support of my family, friends, classmates and the great professors in the counseling department, I would not have been able to finish.

My advice to those who are not sure of their why or are experiencing some personal triumphs, keep pushing. Ask for support from your village, talk to your professors and classmates so that they can help you navigate through this difficult time. Remain faithful and always remember, God has your back!

Abosede Akosile, Masters in Business Administration, BGS

Abosede AkosileMy MBA journey began two (2) years ago when I resumed for the 2017 falls semester. I am an International student who traveled thousands of miles in my quest to have a quality education in United States of America. What really motivated me was the need to make   positive impact in the agency I work with, which is a small and medium enterprises development agency. Due to my legal background and being constantly in an environment where trainings are organized for prospective and existing entrepreneurs, I felt the need to acquire more knowledge on entrepreneurship and business administration.  Initially I was fearful of how I was going to effectively manage my time and resources in order to achieve success in my program, considering that I have four children and a spouse who constantly needs to travel between the two countries.  Trinity University made it easier for me with the proper structuring of lecture hours and being taught by competent lecturers. I also did not know what to expect, coming from another country with a different socio-cultural background, but due to Trinity’s diverse population of students, I integrated easily while making some amazing friends. Now, I am confident in the wealth of applicable knowledge acquired from my intelligent lecturers and ready for the next level.

Claudia H. Harrison, A.A. in General Studies, SPS @THEARC

Claudia H. HarrisonA mother of 4,  I hadn’t been to school in 30 years.  I recall crying at the registration table. I couldn’t believe I was given another chance to fulfill my dreams. The tears wouldn’t stop so I couldn’t hide them. I recall that day being so grateful. Taking my picture after looking at the many on the walls.  Hard to believe I was attending a prestigious school that I  saw many well off attend and applauded.  Here I was walking the steps other National women leaders  walked.  I was honored then as I  am now.  To many it may seem such a small step, but when you put everyone else through school and come back and remember your dream, you cherish every step.  I am not only walking, but today I walk beside my niece Rayshann Bradshaw (also AA in General Studies) who I  encouraged to enroll at Trinity.


As an humanitarian I am assigned to serve 11 countries by the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church as a Minister and Missionary.  I travel annually, more often biannually on the Missions fields in Southern, Eastern Africa. My work also includes Haiti. I most recently was appointed by Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White as the Ecumenical Director of Religious Affairs and Community Engagement.  I am known in my community as an community activist, Mother of the Village. Strongly believe in the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.”   I am the Founder of a nonprofit Angels of Hope in SE Washington DC.

Claudia H. Harrison

Many of my class mates have asked me why am I in school having accomplished what many desire to do.  I have simply responded,  “I need this not for my mother, or for a job.  I need this for me! I THIRST for education, and at my age you realize its value.”   My goal is to pursue a degree in International Affairs and Masters in Non Profit Management at Trinity.