Voices of Trinity: Winter 2021 Graduates Share Their Stories

Voices of Trinity: Winter 2021 Graduates Share Their Stories

Scroll to the bottom of this blog to find the links to the videos of each virtual graduation ceremony!

(Beautifully decorated academic mortarboards with messages of achievement, faith, family and pride have become a tradition at Trinity.  Above are the decorated caps of Markita Harley (BSN), Yaquelyn (Jackie) Velasquez-Canales (BSN), and Kia Wright (AA) )

Congratulations to all winter graduates! Trinity will celebrate your achievements with virtual graduation ceremonies this week, January 13 and 14.  As always, Trinity graduates have powerful stories of persistence, fortitude, challenge and triumph, and our newest alumnae are happy to share their stories with us.  Read on for the inspiration and uplift we need right now:

Francine Umaru, SPS B.A. Human Relations

Bloom: The beautiful process of becoming.

On January 14th, I celebrated one of the best moments of my life. I finally graduated with my Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Relations from Trinity Washington University. My journey as an undergraduate began in the fall semester of 2008. I was not the traditional college student and I had a scarce support system. I had just celebrated my son’s first birthday and I was working as a temp with the desire to secure a fulltime job with DC Government. When my journey began, I had a victim mindset and I finished strong as a thriving survivor. When I reflect on my journey and the process, I realized that my losses were lessons and my setbacks were stepping stones that have helped me develop my strength and perseverance. This accomplishment means more than earning my bachelor’s degree. I am also celebrating my journey to the “other side”, the beautiful process of becoming — blooming, and I give God all the glory.

 “Wherever God plants you, bloom with grace.”

The quote that best describes my journey is, “Wherever God plants you, bloom with grace.” As I child, I was planted in an abusive environment and school was my sanctuary. Education has been a powerful tool in my healing process. When I began to struggle academically, the lessons learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in my Psych class helped me realize I was on the lower level since my safety needs were not met. Maslow quoted, “You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety.” I had to “Maslow” before I could “Bloom”. Leveling up on Maslow’s hierarchy to self-actualization was a huge part of my journey and is an ongoing process.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. – Proverbs 31:8

Studying the dynamics of human relations has given me insight on my own psychological construct. At the end of my undergraduate journey, my most influential professor Dr. Thorne said I have grown and evolved from the young lady she taught in her Group Counseling class in 2013. She shared this sentiment with me as she concluded our Self & Identity class last summer, which was symbolic because it was one of the last classes required to complete my coursework. In my Group Counseling class, I discovered that I was an empath with a natural gift of emotional intelligence to help and advocate for others. Trinity has taught me how to speak up for myself and has served as a safe space, where I began to share my truth. Thank you Trinity for helping me discover my strength, my voice, and my purpose. Thanks to all who rooted for me. Thanks to my big sis and my cousin for setting the bar high. Thanks to my husband for his endless support and sacrifices. Thanks to my kids for motivating me. Thank you God for guiding me every step of the way. One of the things I have learned is that everyone’s journey looks different and we should never compare them. Our journey, no matter how long it takes is the pathway that leads to our purpose.

Ewa Ogundana, CAS, B.A. Political Science

If I could sum up my graduation story in four words, it would be: “God is with me.” My journey to graduation—as most graduates must say—was “no easy feat.” I’m originally from Nigeria but I came to the U.S. with my family 18 years ago. 18 years ago, my parents sacrificed a number of things to allow my brother and I to have a better future here. So, this degree is really for them. But if someone told me 18 years ago that I would be where I am today, I would scream IMPOSSIBLE. It has only been by the Grace of God that I’ve been able to reach this point of graduation with no loans, summa cum laude honors, have a full-time job waiting for me…in the middle of a pandemic…and be graduating early. I am extremely grateful.

I’ve made some incredible memories at this university, and as the motto states “discover your strength,” I’ve done just that. From starting Trinity Sister Fellowship club and serving as CAS Student Government President, to writing my own op-ed and getting it published, to speaking on various advocacy platforms for DACA, to getting featured on MSNBC when I asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi a question in 2019, to then sitting in on President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in 2020 in the Senate Gallery… I am at a loss of words. Being at Trinity has opened the door to a number of avenues that have pushed me to discover my strength. I thank God for leading me to apply to this university even though I initially had no desire to attend. I started off with no friends, but now I’m leaving with a community of lifelong relationships. Thank you to my professors, advisors, colleagues at the library, custodians in Cuvilly Hall, faculty who I’ve got to work with, and countless others. Most importantly, without the help and support of TheDream.US and Trinity’s scholarships, I would not have been able to fund this degree. I am immensely grateful for this journey and I know this is just the beginning!

Valeria Nixon, CAS, B.A. Health Services

I think it’s safe to say this year has been a tough year for many of us. However, I recognize the blessings that still came over me in 2020. I am graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Health Services with a minor in business administration and sociology. I am grateful to be a first-generation college graduate in my family. I was also able to finish school with a 3.9 GPA and leave Trinity with an abundance of amazing memories. This meant everything to me because when I was a senior in High School I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to attend college as a DACA recipient living in the South. However, I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship and got accepted to Trinity in 2017.

My scholarship and Trinity gave me an opportunity at a time when I had lost all hope. Because of this, I thank Trinity faculty, staff, and peers for being the most welcoming and supportive people I could’ve ever come across. I had the time of my life at Trinity. I joined the softball team for 3 years, volunteered, explored the city, did an amazing internship, made friends who I now consider sisters, worked, etc. The whole time Trinity showed its love and support for its students which especially showed during the tough times. I appreciate everyone and all the experiences I came across during my time in school because it grew me into a better person intellectually, personally, and emotionally. For upcoming and future Trinity students I recommend enjoying the present while you can because before you know it you’re done. I also recommend taking advantage of everything Trinity offers that supports your academics and personal life but also remember to explore and fun!!

Elisia George, NHP, B.S.N. Nursing

All things work for our good even when we are not able to see it. It only takes much patience and a whole lot of faith to wait to see the good that comes out of every situation that we face. Born and raised on the island of St. Lucia, number ten of ten, adventurous, ambitious, fearless and not to mention feisty, I migrated to the United States to fulfill a dream of becoming a nurse so that I can one day care for my mother whom I had seen and helped care for others in our family and in the community who were sick and dying. This journey began in 1989 and if the details of the journey were to be included in the few words that I am supposed to write it may end up being a trilogy, so we will fast forward a couple decades with short summaries.


Delay is certainly not a denial. My plan to be a nurse came to a halt I thought, but  rather was postponed after I found out that I needed to have a Green Card or be a legal resident to enroll in nursing school. It took a matter of 26 years for me to obtain the proper documents needed to enroll in nursing school. During these 26 years the hurdles  life placed in my way sought to abort that dream. I went from being married with two children one day to waking up the next day a single mother with no job raising two children on my own. All I had then was a church family with a pastor who refused to allow me to succumb to the disappointment that had fallen upon me like a ton of bricks and a family from New Jersey who adopted me as their own.


Most of my family members were in St. Lucia at the time and could only offer long distance support. Many times I entertained the thought of packing up, and going home but God through my pastor would not let me give up and turn back. I made the decision to give up my dream and just focus on raising my children to make sure that they came out of this situation not badly scarred. I gave up working full time and threw myself into volunteering in their school to be close if they needed me. Along the way, I took that dream of becoming a nurse, placed it in a box and buried it. I did not think that it would ever be possible for me after trying for so long to become a legal resident of the United States. Caring for others had been so ingrained in me that I could not shake it off, so I went into doing private duty elderly care, working for myself still with no Green card.


It fell upon a day in May of 2015, when God remembered me and granted me what I had so long desired: the legal documents to be able to go to school. Immediately, I dug up that buried box with the dream in it. My son was now in College and my daughter was graduating from high school. I registered at Montgomery College (MC) and began the journey of obtaining my prerequisites for nursing school. By a mere coincidence, or at the time that’s what I thought, I stumbled upon Trinity Washington University during a College Fair at MC. I attended an open house, submitted an application not knowing how the tuition was going to be paid and in August of 2017 my journey at Trinity began.
There are not enough adjectives to describe my three years at Trinity. From Alternative Spring-break in Selma, studying abroad in Barcelona, being a Peer Advisor and tutor, receiving the Greater Good award, my professors, my peers, pulling that bag on wheels up that windy hill with books that could put you in a cast if they fell on your feet, the community cries, the sleepless nights, and some more community cries brings me to this day. I can say it was a wonderful, amazing, magnificent, fabulous experience. It was worth it to have waited to complete this journey not in my time but in the time God ordained, at the place he ordained with the people he chose. Trinity has been an absolute blessing in my life. More than receiving a degree and fulfilling a dream, I have been adopted into a family, a community where I have felt supported and have been empowered to join a field where I am needed, with the confidence that I am fully competent to do so.


I could not have made it without the financial support of Trinity and it’s partners and even more grateful to be a recipient of the Conway Scholarship and MMEG grant. I am so honored and humbled to have been taught by an amazing group of professors with a cohort like no other. We were constantly reminded by Dr. Barkley that “to whom much is given, much is required,” I have been given more than I deserved, and by God’s grace I pray that I can give what is required of me and more. Thank you President McGuire, Trinity’s School of Nursing and my Trinity family for this amazing college experience. Thank you to my natural, spiritual and adopted family for riding this train with me. It was well worth the wait.  (Elisia’s decorated mortarboard below…)

Glenda Reyes Rodriguez, CAS B.A. Early Childhood Education

My family always says: “People are not measured by the times that they fall, but for the times that they pick themselves up”.  This is my story:  My name is Glenda Reyes. I was born in El Salvador, into a big family. In 2013, I moved to the United States with my mother and my sister. My mother was a teacher and a single mother, she taught me to work hard and to never abandon my dreams. Since I was a child, I wanted to be many things, in a little girl’s dreams I was a dentist, a lawyer, a teacher, and many more until one day, I found out teaching was my real passion. However, living in a different country and not speaking English at all was one of the biggest challenges I had to face. I struggled for a couple of years trying to learn the language, working and studying was not an easy thing to do but it was a requirement to succeed. Although everything seemed impossible, I never gave up on my dreams because I have a great example by my side, my mother. In 2016, I decided to enroll at Trinity Washington University, I was scared, I knew it was going to be difficult, but I believe with GOD all things are possible. During these four years, I had many ups and downs, but I met some wonderful friends and professors that helped and supported me in many ways. Now, I am really happy to be graduating with a Bachelors in Early Childhood Education, but my journey has just begun, I know that many great things are yet to come.  Thank You, Trinity, I am extremely GRATEFUL for the opportunity you gave me to pursue my dreams, and with the people that motivated me throughout this process. Thank you, MOM, our sacrifice has finally paid off. I did it for us!  Students, remember this, things will get tougher when we are closer to reaching our goals, don’t give up.

Tola Walker, CAS, B.A. Early Childhood Education

“If yuh wah good, yuh nose haffi run” A popular Jamaican saying that I could always expect my mother to say in times of need. It simply means to achieve your dreams; you have to be willing to work hard and persevere along the pathway until you attain your goals. At age 15, my entire life changed. I moved to the United States to live with my father in 2013. My father who made a lot of tradeoffs so that I and my siblings could of course get a bite of this “BIG APPLE” that everyone talked about. Leaving my native country Jamaica, “the land of wood and water” to be in “the land of the free and the home of the brave” was a huge step, but it was in the right direction. My academic journey in the United States began at Duval High School where everything was new. I had to adapt to my new normal. The transition got smoother each year of high school.

I knew that I always wanted to be an educator so, when I finally got to my senior year of high school in 2016, I began my search for colleges that would best fit my needs. It was a stressful time in my life because I thought I would not get admitted to any schools that I applied for. Well, those thoughts took a hold of me and I was discouraged because my first response from a university said something along these lines “we regret to inform you that we are unable to offer you admission to the University…” Can you imagine? Nevertheless, I continued my search and I found Trinity Washington University where I truly discovered my strengths, as a woman, as a student, and as a member of this society. I embarked on a new journey at a small women’s college in Washington, D.C. I can honestly say it has been a wonderful journey and that I met some of the best people through attending Trinity. Most importantly, I have had the opportunity to cross paths with some of the best professors I know.

Today, I am a 23-year-old woman and a lifelong learner, who now has the ability to teach students of all races. I have finally completed my bachelor’s degree and I have got to say it feels amazing. Now, it is time for me to MASTER other things. Thank you to everyone who helped me along the way. Thank you, mother and father. Thank you, sisters and brothers. Thank you, friends. Congratulations to my fellow classmates of 2020. We did it!

Taneisha Queen Washington, EDU, M.S.A. Educational Administration

First, I give all glory, honor and praise to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Without Him, I would not be here today, graduating with a Master’s degree after many years of persevering. I am grateful to President Pat McGuire, Dr. Gladys Williams, my Educational Administration Program Director, Dr. Janice Talbert, my Trinity Internship Mentor and all of the Trinity Faculty and Staff who helped to prepare me for this moment. Thank you! Thank you! Thank You! I am standing with a heart full of gratitude for reaching this milestone in my life and I would not have been able to do it without the Lord and my village. I am an example of the fact that hard work, determination and perseverance will allow you to obtain your goals. I am also grateful for my husband, Shawn and my son, Tyshawn who stood by my side and encouraged me along the way. I thank God for my parents, Mr. & Mrs. Queen for instilling in me the importance of serving God and gaining an education at an early age. Mom and Dad, this is for you. I also would like to thank all of my family and my pastor who prayed for me and encouraged me to hang in there during the course of my journey. I would also like to recognize the leadership of the school where I currently work as a teacher. Special thanks to Mr. Vincent Spadoni, the President of the Consortium of Catholic Academies, Father Mark Cusick, Pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church, Principal Harold Thomas, Jr. and Vice Principal Sheryce Parrish of St. Francis Xavier Academy, who were all outstanding examples of exemplary Educational Leaders and mentors for me throughout this program. Along with my Trinity professors, they encouraged, coached and taught me how to be an Educational Leader sometimes even when they did not know that they were, and for this my life and profession has truly been enriched. It was not easy getting to this moment, but I am grateful to God that I made it. Over the years, millions of college students have started the same program that I did but many did not make it to the end. As I reflect on my journey I just want to say in the words of a song title, “Millions didn’t make it, but I was one of the ones who did” for this I am truly, truly grateful. I plan to use this foundation to make an impact in school systems and education across the world and make you all proud in doing so. Thank you Trinity Washington University for preparing me. Thank you God for leading, guiding and directing me. May God bless you and may heaven smile upon you.


Paola Pinto-Capote, BGS M.A. Strategic Communication and Public Relations

Less than three years ago, I came to the US with very little knowledge of English. Running away from Venezuela, trying to find better opportunities for my future and a way to help my family back home, I first started English courses, but I was desperate to find a long-term solution to avoid going back to a country suffering an unimaginable humanitarian crisis.

After months of planning and applying, I got accepted to Trinity Washington University less than 20 days before my visa was set to expire which would have left me to go back to my country with my tail between my legs. I got a second opportunity to change my life.

Today I want to thank all those who believed in my potential and believed in me even when I didn’t. Trinity staff supported me from day one. Moreover, my family in Venezuela, which struggles daily with horrible economic, political, and health crises, never waivered in their support of my dreams.

I am very grateful to have had this opportunity and proud of myself for achieving this new goal. I know that I am making my family proud not only by obtaining an academic degree, but also by working to achieve my dreams, graduating with a perfect GPA, and fighting adversity alone in this country.

Now, I can proudly say that I have a Master’s degree in Strategic Communications and Public Relations, and I hope to use this knowledge to find a job in an organization that allows me to voice global problems such as inequality, humanitarian crises, ocean and environmental conservation, and animal welfare.

Gracias, mamá. Gracias, papá. Gracias, Brandon. Gracias, Trinity.

See my photography work where: https://www.instagram.com/thedreamershot/

Nicole McCrae, EDU M.S.A. in Educational Administration

One of my favorite quotes of all time is by the late, great Dr. Maya Angelou. She wrote the following line which has resonated with me throughout this educational journey and within my academic leadership career. The saying goes: “Do the best you can until you know better, then when you do know better, do better!” This line simplistically pushes one to have the inner grit to keep going and to push yourself into a cycle of continuous learning. That is what my experience was all about in my time at Trinity. Serving as a high school principal at IDEA Public Charter School, in my fourth year of serving where I started as an English teacher nearly 14 years ago, challenged me to work harder to improve in my administrative lane of servicing inner city youth. Having started as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in 2006 in La Chatre, France to now leading a community of families, staff and adolescent minds during a time of a global health crisis truly required some new learning and novel instruction. Trinity has given me the opportunity to help reshape my craft as a school leader and also propelled me to thrive as a leader of leaders. This program has grounded me in the importance of developing adults and creating a cycle of learning that is full circle to ensure that the concept of lifetime learning does not dissolve.

Overall, this educational path has helped to ground me beyond measure in a time of extreme challenges, loss and barriers. This accomplishment would not be possible without my unyielding faith in God and without the support of my amazing husband, James McCrae. Both are core elements of my foundation along with the constant drive from my mother and father. Overall, I am grateful to have had the privilege to have received the wisdom and knowledge that was provided to me in this program by the remarkable professors within Trinity’s program. I am ecstatic to have met this milestone with the direct push from my leadership coach, Kimberly Washington and from New Leaders’ partnership with Trinity to allow for this bridge to be built for practicing school leaders. This mark of success is a start to a continued road of representation for African American women leaders in the field of education. I am appreciative to serve as a role model for my beautiful, three daughters (Jaela, Kenzie, & Nia) who encourage me everyday to keep going and to never give up. There’s no ceiling to success and I plan to exemplify that daily!

Natasha Clark, SPS, B.A. Health Services

Who knew that I would ever see this day coming! I have been enrolled in three prior universities before Trinity University without finishing my degree.Working full time and going to school was not ideal for me but I had to make the best out of my situation.  Me being an independent student, my main and only focus was to finish. I wish I had actually got more involved on campus. I had times where I questioned was this even worth it when I am so dead tired at the end of the day and I sometimes worked and studied more than I actually had fun.

I struggled with comparing myself to my peers and their success. I even passed on going to my 10 year high school reunion because I felt like I had not accomplished anything and was still chasing my degree.  With the right support system around me telling me I got this when I had moments of doubt and wanted to stop, I kept pushing forward. I can now say, no SHOUT,that I am a college graduate. I know that my story is my own and it does not matter how long it took me, I finished. Now I pray for a salary that is higher than my student loans.LOL

Thank you to Trinity for getting me prepared for my career and advancement.

Shelda Summons, NHP Bachelor of Science in Nursing

All glory and honor to God for His awesome and mighty works. I am so grateful that He sustained me and brought me to this point. My journey through Trinity began in pursuit of higher learning but in so doing, I also embarked on one of self-discovery. I walked through these doors intent on doing just what I needed to do to earn my degree and that was it. However, Trinity quickly grew on me, so instead, I’ve had during my time here, experiences so rich and rewarding, that have truly impacted and shaped me into a version of myself that I could not have become otherwise. From singing in the school’s choir to participating in service opportunities in and around the community, campaigning for violence prevention and the safety of women to sharing my thoughts and creative writings in the university’s literary magazine, it has been an amazing experience for me. I have laughed within these walls, cried, danced, sung. Along the way, I have built beautiful friendships that are sure to last a lifetime.

The charm of Trinity is wrapped up in the warm smile of Sylvester, the Campus security guard, when you drive onto the grounds, the exuberant greeting and motherly embrace of Ms. Peyton when you walk into the Academic Center, the warmth and wisdom of Dr. Camilla Burns who seems to remember the name of every student she comes into contact with or the voice of Dr. Betschman who encourages us to stay fit by taking the stairs instead of the elevator. It is similarly evident in the diligence and dedication of the faculty members who daily show up and show out in ensuring our success…Dr. O’Reilly as she challenged me to think deeper and who always, always had the best candy, Prof. Charles who exercised such patience when I was a bit slower at completing tasks than my colleagues, Prof. Collins who exemplifies kindness and generosity and who is so passionate about her courses and teaching, Prof. Rollins-Monroe who is a strong student advocate and tenacious problem solver, Prof. Marshall whose quick wit livened up the classroom and kept us engaged, Dr. Barkley who taught me the fundamentals of survival (if you can survive Capstone with Dr. Barkley, you can survive anything) and Dr. Pope whose door was always open and whose support gave me the confidence and the motivation to work hard and achieve my goals. Being at Trinity has been one of the richest and most fulfilling experiences of my life. It was not all bright and beautiful though.

I encountered many challenges during this time, the greatest of which was completing the nursing program during a global pandemic. Familial challenges and health emergencies arose unexpectedly. Coping with social isolation and the necessary separation from family and friends as well as adjusting to virtual learning added to the mounting stress. I struggled…. but God was my source of comfort and strength and it was during those challenging times, especially in this final semester, that He carried me.  Those challenges were also instrumental in my identifying and embracing two of my greatest strengths; my determination and my resilience.

I am especially grateful for the love and support of my family that have been my sounding board, ready-made patients and shoulder to cry on ever so often, my daughter who ensured that I never went to bed hungry and who never complained that I was too busy these past four years to have mommy-daughter time, faculty for always being there day-in, day-out to answer questions and to provide guidance, and to my fellow students especially my prayer /study buddies who weren’t ashamed to meet for a much needed “community cry” when things got really overwhelming. Together we encouraged each other and we persevered. Congratulations to my fellow graduating colleagues, by God’s grace WE DID IT!!!  (Image below of Shelda’s academic cap…)

Ariana Ruffin, CAS, B.A. in Health Services

I would like to thank God for giving me the strength throughout my college career. Thank you to my parents and family for motivating me and always encouraging me every step of the way.

My time here at Trinity has been bittersweet and I want to  Thank the staff and Dr. Betchsman for always going an extra mile in making sure the women here have the tools for success and the real world.

I walked in as a teenage and I am leaving as a young adult. Trinity has molded me into a young woman and I am forever grateful for the experience and opportunity I was given here at Trinity.

Congrats again to my fellow classmates, I wish everyone the best in there future endeavors

Nelly Cruz Hernandez, NHP, BS in Nursing

Tia Johnson, MA in School Counseling

Videos of the Winter 2021 Virtual Ceremonies:

College of Arts & Sciences Group 1:  History, Political Science, International Affairs, Education, Business (Jan. 13 10 am)

College of Arts & Sciences Group 2:  Health Services, Biology (Jan. 13 11 am)

College of Arts & Sciences Group 3: Psychology, Criminal Justice, Forensic Science, Human Relations, Communication, General Studies (January 14, 11 am)

School of Education: MAT, MEd, MSA (January 13 4pm)

School of Business and Graduate Studies: MBA, MA Strategic Communication, MSA Organizational Leadership
(January 13, 6 pm)

School of Nursing and Health Professions: BSN, MA Counseling, MOT, MSN (January 14, 4 pm)

School of Professional Studies:  AA, BA, BS (January 14, 6 pm)